Feeling Lost And Alone At Work

Question:

I have, somewhere along the lines of the last four years I’ve worked here, managed to make a small group of people dislike me. What I did exactly to make them dislike me is beyond me. I have no idea what it is that I did that made them mad. When I ask them, they tell me that they are not mad at me, and that they have no problem with me. Yet their behaviours tell me a different story. They give me dirty looks, they walk together but ignore me. They act like they don’t want me sitting at the break table with them. They say they aren’t feeling well. Any number of excuses they make to tell me there is nothing wrong. Yet they refuse to include me in what is going on in my work area. Most of the time I am left in the dark about what is going on in my work area, because no one shares that information with me. Then they act displeased at me because I’m not together with what is going on at work, they treat me as if I’m incompetent and incapable and as if I have no idea what is going on. Which is the truth, I have no idea what is going on, because they won’t include me. I’ve tried many times to talk to each of them, they refuse to talk about it and tell me what the problem is. I wish they would just tell me what it is that makes them dislike me so we could work it out. I’m exhausted, and depressed. I don’t know what to do. It’s a good job, I’ve been there a long time, I don’t want to lose my job. However I can’t stand it anymore. It’s really miserable walking alone, behind a group of them talking and laughing and having fun together. When I tell those that do like me about it…they just tell me that I shouldn’t let it bother me or worry me. But how do you even do that?

Signed,

Struggling


Answer:

Dear Struggling:

I’m sorry this is happening with your work situation. Your feelings may or may not be completely justified, but logic and reason don’t always help a person feel better. It seems to me that you need to take some positive actions so you can feel in control of your own destiny there.

Let me share some thoughts that might be useful.

First, you probably will be able to deal with this better if you can separate your desire or emotional need for a friendship with those specific coworkers, from the requirement for an effective work relationship with all coworkers.

Many people find they simply do not have friends at work. The key is to not have active enemies!

1. A harsh truth is this: These few people will probably never be good friends of yours. They may very likely come to appreciate your work and not actively do things to make you feel badly. But, I would doubt any of them will suddenly start including you in the activities of their small group. You may always find yourself walking alone and seeing them together. There are things you need to do to make sure you are part of work, but other than that, you will probably never be part of more social moments.

2. As far as WHY they are acting as they do, you will never know every reason, because they may not know themselves. And even if they do, they may not want to tell you or think it won’t do any good.

There is no point in continuing to ask them what is the matter. If you have asked them already, they know it’s important to you. No purpose will be served by continuing to push them about it–and it will likely only irritate and embarrass them to the point that they avoid you even more.

3. I will make the assumption there is nothing at all that could cause their reactions, but I’m going to mention some common reasons some coworkers have been shunned by others, and you can consider whether any of them could apply to you.

*Coworker has traits or habits that are disliked by those who are shunning them. (This could be personal habits and traits, personality quirks, hygiene issues, personal appearance, tone or volume of voice, inability to fit into the conversations and ideas of the others; not being someone they want to be linked with in the minds of others; and similar trait, habit and characteristic issues.

*Coworker is not effective in work and is viewed as lacking credibility or unable to assist, and as one who creates problems for others.

*Coworker has done something that is viewed as showing disloyalty to the group or to favorite people in the group.

Usually the biggest issue is just that a group bonds together and they exclude anyone who isn’t like them. Analyze what they are like in their social standing, their ages, tenure, life experiences, common ground and even their appearances. What about them is similar to you and what is different? What is the bond that keeps them together? Do you really want to be part of that anyway? Is there any chance you will become more like them over time?

I’ll bet you end up realizing you and this group simply have nothing in common outside of work tasks you share.

4. Ask yourself how you want to be perceived by others at all levels in the work place. Do you want to be seen as a strong worker who is not distracted by personality issues? Or, do you want to be seen as someone who is fearful, unhappy and overly concerned about making friends at work?

You are probably not as extreme as that last statement sounds, but it’s easy to get to that point without realizing how you sound or act. Be the best person you can be and reach out to others. Make a personal commitment to get to know many people in your company, department or section, without expecting friendship. It may happen but it may not.

When you see this closed group walking together, smile and move toward them. Make small talk for just a few seconds, then move away and let them be alone. Yes, they’ll probably talk about you. They probably talk about everyone! At least you will feel that you have been part of the work place. And, it could be that over time your appropriate friendliness will have a positive effect.

Your only other option is to continue to be outside but not doing anything about it. That’s not good! Now, let’s consider work, rather than friendships: What can you do to move forward in your thoughts and actions?

1. Make a list of the work issues you need to know more about and the things on which you need to be working more closely with coworkers. Briefly note what suffers when you do not have full collaboration with a coworker in those areas. What is the link to work? If you can get your work done just fine without interacting with the others except peripherally, then you can renew that effort. But, if there are some things you simply can’t do without more communication and inclusion on their part, that is important and needs to be fixed.

2. Set up a time to meet with your supervisor or manager. You didn’t mention that person in your message, but he or she should be your most important work relationship. Don’t focus your conversation with your supervisor on wanting to establish friendships. Focus on wanting to do better work. Share the list of the things you feel you need to know more about and let the supervisor decide what to do about it.

The supervisor may want to talk to everyone, have a meeting about the problem or talk to specific people. He or she may decide to have weekly or monthly meetings or your supervisor may decide to assign regularly reporting and sharing requirements. Or, he or she may not think there is a problem with communication, or may think you need to gain more knowledge and skills on your own. Try to see their perspective and ask questions to help you be clear about your supervisor’s views and expectations.

Avoid using this meeting as a time to let your supervisor know your coworkers haven’t been cooperating. You may need to do that eventually, but for the first meeting, try to keep all the focus on how you can produce more and better work, or do your job more effectively in the ways you know are a concern for the organization.

If you feel you must let the supervisor know—-or if the supervisor asks–be as specific as possible about when you asked for information or assistance, what was said and what effect it had on your ability to get the work done.

3. Decide on your own or with the help of your supervisor, what things you will push back about appropriately, to ensure full communication with coworkers. Don’t take no for an answer if you genuinely need information or work products from your coworkers.

If they don’t tell you, ask them again immediately. If you still don’t get information, ask them if they would meet with you and the supervisor to get it straightened out. That will be very, very tough to do. But, if you don’t do it, you may find you will be the one viewed as dispensable at layoff time.

Hopefully if you ask with the focus on work, that will be successful. “Gina, I asked you for those statistics because without them I can’t place the order for materials. Is there a reason you can’t give them to me right now?” If you don’t get them or a reason for not getting them, escalate it. “Well, Gina, I can’t do my work without the statistics. So, let’s go talk to Angela about it and see what we can work out.”

If you have discussed the issues with your supervisor, he or she will know your concerns and why you might need to have him or her intervene.

4. Get a blank copy of your performance evaluation form, if you receive such an evaluation. Look at the list of things for which you are evaluated. Start working daily to ensure that you give your supervisor a reason to rate you highly in each area.

That exercise will accomplish several things. First, it will remind you that every day is a chance to be evaluated highly. Second, it will get you focused on the priorities for your work. You know you can’t let a coworker torpedo your good work, so you are more likely to do what it takes to make sure you are an effective employee. Third, it’s just an interesting exercise that reminds you that you are the only one you can control .

Think about it this way: You want this job. If, when you were being interviewed for it, you had been told the group was hard to break into, and if you were asked, “What will you do if you are hired but find that the people you work with don’t include you in their friendship circle. What would you do then?”

How would you answer that question? Would you say, “I’d quit.” Or, “I’d be so depressed I could barely work?” Or would you offer some strong, mature sounding response?

5. Look around your work area and see the image you present. Use some of the time you might have used feeling badly, to spiffy up your work space, organize things, volunteer to help someone else if that is appropriate for you to do, and work on being the most effective employee possible. Look for problems to solve, in cooperation with others. Be the one who gets outside the personality dramas at work and instead is just a good employee.

When you have done all of those things you will be doing much better, even if you are still mostly on your own. If you have swayed the thinking of the group a little bit, that would be good. But if you haven’t, you’ll be accomplishing so much on your own that you won’t care a great deal about cliques at work.

Keep your friendships with others, on and off the job, as strong as possible. But remember that you didn’t take the job to have pals at work, as nice as that is. You took it to help your organization be successful. That can be an overriding goal that will prod you to force some needed communication, but not mind if you are not part of the group the rest of the time.

It will certainly never be easy to be laughed at because it is never acceptable to laugh at someone at work in a mean way. If you think something is truly disruptive to you and overtly rude, you may find it necessary to talk to your supervisor and ask him or her to help you change the situation. A team can’t work well when there is open hostility and mockery. And, you are not required to tolerate downright rudeness without complaining.

I hope these thoughts have been helpful to you. Perhaps you can adapt them to your specific needs and concerns. Best wishes to you. If you have the time and wish to do so, let us know how this works out.

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.