It can’t be avoided but we don’t want it to last.
It’s that feeling of being disconnected, conspicuous, and self-conscious whenever we’re plunked in workplace situations with people who don’t know us. It can happen when we:
- join a new work group
- participate in a cross-functional meeting
- attend an industry conference
- go to our first company party
- become part of a new project team
The sooner we feel accepted the better. For some it’s easy but not for others. Feeling excluded can drag us down and stall our careers.
The “why” of it
We can usually sense that we’re being left out by theses clues:
- Blatant exclusion — being uninvited to meetings, ignored, ostracized, bypassed
- Disregard– repeated rejection of input, unacknowledged communication, impolite treatment
- Avoidance–unwillingness of colleagues to interact, collaborate, or talk with us
The reasons for being left out are many, so it helps to figure out enough so we can try to turn things around.
Generally, exclusion (temporary or permanent) may be the result of some discomfort our colleagues feel because of our:
- physical appearance (size, shape, gait, dress, race)
- sound (accent, tone of voice, pace of speaking)
- background (ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic group)
- career specialty (techie, scientist, writer, hands-on worker)
- reputation (climber, flirt, trouble-maker, boaster, truth-bender)
When colleagues make us feel left out, their reasons are as much a commentary about them as us. The difference is that we’re the ones who feel the pain.
I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, especially at work, since company culture, work demands, and personalities create unique pressures.
Whether what others think about us is fair or correct isn’t the focus. It’s what we’re going to do to correct misconceptions and build positive perceptions that make us an accepted and valued part of the team.
What to do.
Once we have an inkling about the barriers to our being included, we need to shrink them.
It’s easy to be resentful and have a chip on your shoulder. When you do, it makes matters worse.
The reality is that we’re all capable of being excluders, even when while we’re being excluded. It happens when:
- We don’t know how to include someone we don’t know well; our tongues get tied and our feet stuck.
- No one else in the work group has yet made a move, so the ice is not yet broken for us.
- We’re uncertain about how connecting will affect us one-on-one and as part of the team.
- There is a fear that our overture will be rejected, misread, or misused.
Inclusion at work is an investment in a relationship. When it’s positive, everyone wins; if not, then the price can be dear. That’s why coworkers are often careful or unwilling to step forward.
Take the pledge.
Healthy, productive organizations need everyone to feel valued. Anyone who feels left out is likely to perform below par, lack motivation to grow, and experience career disappointment.
Supervisors who fail to create inclusive work groups risk escalation of unwanted behaviors that slowly poison the operation.
Each of us is responsible for contributing to a fully inclusive work environment, even when we’re feeling excluded. That’s the big challenge.
We all need to pledge that we’ll extend a hand to a coworker who may feel left out. It’s about doing simple things:
- Greet him warmly when your paths cross
- Invite her to join in a discussion, meeting, or event
- Talk with him about his work
- Share news that she might have missed
- Volunteer to work with him on an assignment
- Commit to kindness
If you are feeling excluded now or if you have been excluded in the past, please pledge to take these small steps. They are a path to inclusion over time that will also benefit you.
Our career success is a product of what we do and how we do it. Remember those who reached out to you along the way and please pay it forward where you work.