Colleagues Shutting You Out? Proceed with Caution

Feb 6, 2014
6 Min Read

Do you remember being at your locker in high school and standing 5 feet away from a tightly huddled clique whispering about something you were not privileged enough to hear?

It turns out that this still happens, and at work of all places.

There are many reasons your colleagues might be shutting you out. Maybe they feel like they can’t trust you. Maybe they think you’re incompetent. Maybe you’re just not part of the group. Or maybe you’re imagining the whole thing. In any case, there is a smart way to proceed when you feel like you are being kept out of the loop.

Don’t get angry

Whatever you do, avoid chastising anyone about their behavior, and especially steer clear of incendiary confrontations. As hurt and insecure as the situation probably makes you feel, this reaction will put colleagues immediately on the defensive. If they were harboring any negative feelings toward you before, those feelings are bound to intensify.

Talk about the company rather than yourself

An assertive but calm conversation, on the other hand, is a good idea. Approach the person you see as the most critical stakeholder and suggest why including you in the process is better for the organization and her as a key player in the organization. It will not be effective to tell her that this is your pet project and you want to be involved. Recall that no one cares what you want – they need to know what’s in it for them.

Remind them why you’re there

Presumably, you were originally assigned to the project for a reason. Somewhere along the way, this reason may have been forgotten. Talk up your unique skills and expertise, and do things that show how you’re adding value that no one else can. Suck up any extra time and effort – your career could be at stake.

Insert yourself into key gatherings

If you find yourself being shut out of key meetings or social outings, try to find out about these gatherings through the grapevine. Once you do, don’t wait to be invited. Just show up. Being there in the flesh will allow you to hear the next steps, which makes it less likely that you’ll be excluded in the future. Of course, this may annoy someone, but in my opinion it’s worth the risk.

Build personal relationships

If your colleagues genuinely like you, they’ll naturally want to work with you on projects. Become friends with members of your team by asking them about their interests and volunteering to help out in a pinch. Organize a happy hour where you can get to know people on a more casual basis. Even one ally in this type of situation can mean the difference between inclusion and exclusion.

Find a work-around

In the worst case scenario, nothing you do successfully penetrates the group. If this is the case, don’t allow it to interfere with your results. Talk openly with your manager in person – but don’t complain. Rather, brainstorm solutions that will allow you to contribute in a way that benefits everyone involved. Is your manager part of the problem? Consider ways to accomplish your goals on a parallel track.

Pay attention to the warning signals

Finally, if you’ve suddenly noticed that you aren’t being asked to attend important meetings in your department or functional area, and/or you seem to be the last one to hear about developments that pertain directly to your work, think about what this says about your status in the organization. You could be in danger of being fired, laid off, or transferred, so fix the situation before it messes things up for you.

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