Cliques At Work

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about cliques:

I’ve been working at a new job in a new state. People in this new location have their cliques. I struggle to fit in, especially at work. Wouldn’t care if it wasn’t affecting my work, but unless you’re in the clique you seem to get excluded. I don’t know what to do, who to trust, and who to go to.

Signed, Feeling Left Out

DearĀ Feeling Left Out:

You and many others have found it difficult to “fit in” or even to “get in” to a new location with new people. Some people have more problems than others, because of being more introverted by nature or because they tend to feel less confident in any setting, let alone a new one.

Let me suggest a few things that might be helpful. At least they might inspire you to do some things you were already considering.

1. Give yourself and others time to develop a positive relationship. Often current employees feel uncomfortable about including new people. They don’t mean to exclude, but because they don’t actively include it appears that way.Whether you are talking about work, church or social groups, people have to get to know you, decide if they trust you and if they have anything in common with you, or to what degree they want to be involved with you as a friend. All of that takes time. I don’t know how much time, but I know it sometimes seems like a long time!

2. Apply the concepts of gaining influence to gaining relationships at work: You must be credible, dependable, valuable and an effective and personal communicator. That means you should focus on your work to the point that you are always in the process of becoming the best at what you do. You should do what you can and what is appropriate to help others when they ask or when they need it. (That doesn’t mean imposing on them or letting them impose on you, just being a good resource.) You must act like someone who others would want to include in conversations and you must converse with others in appropriate ways. I emphasize appropriate for all the reasons I’m sure you know already. Some people over-do it and become a bother, then are excluded even more!

3. Start your relationship-building with your supervisor or manager. Take the time to find out what he or she needs from you and on what are you evaluated formally. Get a copy of the evaluation form if you can, from the boss or from HR. Then, work to fulfill those areas all the time.I always say, “Every day is a new job interview.” If you live your life like that, you will come to work every day looking your best and acting your best. There are always some who translate casual as sloppy or dirty. Similarly, there are some who mistakenly think that because the boss isn’t nagging all the time, there is no reason to be worried. Be the model employee and the model work friend, whether you think it’s recognized all the time or not. At least you’re ready! Ask your supervisor if he or she has any committees or groups you could participate in or any projects you could be responsible for. Get your work done first, but then be an active part of the team. But, work through your supervisor at first. You can do that without seeming to be apple polishing.You said you don’t know what to do, who to trust and who to go to. Your supervisor should fit all of those descriptions. If not, focus instead on asking about your job description and what your boss wants you to do. Then, do it without trying to read the work situation and identify friends or enemies.

4. Build relationships at work, one person at a time. My usual advice is to become friends with people of your own gender first, then you can become friends with everyone. By being friends with your own gender first, you avoid having your friendliness misunderstood and you also avoid gossip and speculation.If there are others who seem to be shy or excluded, make them feel comfortable in quiet ways. Smile, say hello, ask about their work rather than their private lives. Be someone they look forward to seeing.

5. Build a life away from work. Work is just part of your time and your life.Find ways to become part of your community or your church or a social club. A friend told me he felt so alone when he moved, and months later he was still alone. So, he got online and started looking for groups sponsored by libraries in his area. He soon joined a book discussion group—not because he particularly wanted to discuss books, but to stay in the habit of talking to strangers. He didn’t make close friends in the group, but he developed the confidence to be more active in other areas and he made friends there.

If you don’t have groups to be part of, just develop your life as a person. Exercise every day, eat right and spend some time cooking healthy foods, keep your home immaculately clean, find a topic you’re interested in and start building expertise in that topic. That will require you to research, read and be mentally active in that way.Those things may seem like a lot of work, but what they do is get you outside yourself.I’m not saying you fit this description, but I like to share it when I talk to people about issues like this. Joseph Priestly, the 18th century writer and theologian wrote that when we are focused only on ourselves we become miserable little lumps of ego. I think that anything that gets us outside ourselves in a good way, is a good thing and helps us attract others.

6. This last bit of advice may seem a bit negative, but I think it’s worthwhile. Often we judge ourselves on the basis of how someone else is living. So, we see in an office that some are smiling and surrounded by others. They yell for people to join them for lunch and everyone does. They walk through the office and seem to radiate confidence and comfort. If we don’t see ourselves that way, we feel unhappy and left out of the world, not just that setting. But the truth is that many people don’t have friends at work, or at least not close friends. The thing they should value is if they can get work done with others and if they are doing well in the opinion of their supervisor. That is what work is for.

Some people not only feel alone at work, they don’t have many friends outside of work either. There are many more of those than you may realize. For some, if it wasn’t for family members they would have no friends at all! They aren’t purposely excluded, they are simply not thought of when it’s time for invitations to dinner or a party, because they’re not close enough to have the status of long term friend.

For the many, many people who fit that description, there is a choice. They can feel depressed over it or they can live a full life in which they reach out to others appropriately now and then, without expecting the others to reciprocate.Maybe the other people will and maybe they won’t. But to the more solitary person, their own mental and physical health and their ongoing positive approach to life is the most important thing. That may or may not be you, but I think it needs to be said to more people. I don’t think it’s right to tell someone that if they act friendly they’ll start having friends, because that might not happen. But what WILL happen is that people who may not want to be close friends will still start acting more friendly and accepting. That is a great beginning, and if it doesn’t go further than that, it’s still not bad.I hope these thoughts have been useful to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know what happens and how things develop.Best wishes to you!

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina Lewis Rowe

Tina had a thirty-three year career in law enforcement, serving with the Denver Police Department from 1969-1994 and was the Presidential United States Marshal for Colorado from 1994-2002. She provides training to law enforcement organizations and private sector groups and does conference presentations related to leadership, workplace communications and customized topics. Her style is inspirational with humor.