Exclusion is the act of alienating someone or something. It creates an “insider” versus “outsider” club, leading to workplace conflicts.
The insiders make all the rules, set the norms, and hold the power. The outsiders are made to feel out of place, lack access to resources (time, money, people), and are suspect. Outsiders do not feel safe because they know something is wrong and are unsure how or if to act.
When your clients or team members act exclusionary, take action. Exclusionary behaviors become most visible when mistakes are made, often when it is too late.
Imagine you are working on a creative project that is going well. Then you find you have made a mistake. You cannot imagine how this mistake happened.
You have a good track record. Your boss “has your back.” Unfortunately, you learn, sometimes accidentally, that the broader organization punishes risk-takers and failure. A line has been drawn and people are talking behind your back.
When you are on the wrong side of the line, you feel alone. Meetings and decisions take place without you. Soon you feel as if the relational capital you built has begun to dissolve. Seek out your mentors and advisors who can provide additional guidance and support during this time.
Imagine that there is an organizational change. People you like and respect come and go within the organization. You “play nice” and are open to the changes in personnel.
Now your position changes. You find yourself being marginalized, no longer in the inner circle. Instead, you notice that you are being pushed out. As an outsider, this is exhausting. You have to fight for resources, such as FaceTime with key stakeholders, budgets, or access to information.
Every time you think you understand how the new game is being played, the game changes again. Resources for your projects are channeled elsewhere. Your voice is limited or ignored. You are no longer valued. You do not have the influence to effect changes and decisions.
Set up a meeting with your new manager and team to gain a better understanding of their thought process and decision drivers.
What value do you bring?
Some clients do not fully understand nor see the value that you bring to their business. You have been delivering a great service as a true partner and advisor. Suddenly, the budgets have decreased or the company or individual feels threatened by your presence.
Either way, you find you are defending yourself and must convince your clients of your value. This can be frustrating, because difficult conversations are being avoided, which presents opportunities for additional communication breakdowns and further frustration.
Get curious and ask questions that will provide you with additional insights on future changes, strategic direction, budgets, and people.
Signs of exclusion.
A feeling of low psychological safety is one way exclusion behaviors manifest. Fearing backlash, this feeling may inhibit you from sharing your point of view.
Lack of trust builds, which leads to decreased connection and collaboration with your team and clients. You may even start to question your tenure at the company or with the client.
Moving from exclusion to inclusion.
If you are experiencing an uncomfortable experience at your work environment or with your clients, here are some actions you can take.
Find someone you trust with whom to share your experience and concerns. Speak up and communicate your feelings. You will likely learn that you are not alone.
Document actions taken against you, but do not take them personally. Focus on the facts and not the people involved. This will help you understand behavior patterns and help you navigate an otherwise difficult situation.
Be patient and be strong. Search for an environment in which you feel valued and respected. When your clients or team members start to exhibit exclusive behaviors toward you, be objective. Notice when patterns start to change.
Try to win back hearts and minds by asking carefully crafted questions. If people are not being honest and transparent, it may be time to part ways.
Simone Sloan is the founder of Your Choice Coach, which applies expertise in Diversity & Inclusion Consultant, business strategy, executive coaching, and emotional intelligence to help organizations align activities with strategy and become more human to realize results.