How to cope with be­ing side­lined

Feel­ing ig­nored or os­tracised at work can un­der­mine your con­fi­dence and your ca­reer prospects. Here’s how to em­power your­self and bounce back.

Finweek English Edition - - ON THE MONEY CAREERS -

at first you thought it was just an over­sight. You weren’t in­cluded in an email about a key is­sue, or in­vited to a meet­ing about a project you were sup­posed to be in­volved in. But the ev­i­dence is mount­ing that you are not part of the in­ner cir­cle any more. You feel iso­lated and when you air your views, you are ig­nored. Also: eye­rolling.

It may feel like the worst thing in the world, and in a way it is.

Re­cent re­search by the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia’s Sauder School of Busi­ness showed that be­ing ig­nored or os­tracised has a much big­ger impact on your health and morale than be­ing out­right ha­rassed or bul­lied.

The re­searchers mea­sured the impact of iso­lat­ing events (like not be­ing in­vited to meet­ings or left to sit alone in a work­place set­ting) in a sur­vey of 1 300 peo­ple. It showed that em­ploy­ees who were os­tracised were more likely to ex­pe­ri­ence men­tal dis­tress and health is­sues than those bul­lied or ha­rassed. They were also much more likely to leave their jobs within three years than the vic­tims of bul­ly­ing.

Nev­er­the­less, the sur­vey found that os­tracis­ing an em­ployee is viewed as more so­cially ac­cept­able than out­right bul­ly­ing or ver­bal ha­rass­ment. Work­place os­tracism is also more preva­lent, with more than 70% of US par­tic­i­pants in a re­cent study re­port­ing be­ing af­fected by it. (Less than a third of par­tic­i­pants ex­pe­ri­enced ha­rass­ment.)

Be­ing os­tracised can be ex­tremely dis­tress­ing; and in the long run, it can un­der­mine your self-con­fi­dence and be ex­tremely dam­ag­ing to your ca­reer.


Step 1: Ex­am­ine the ev­i­dence. Be­fore tak­ing any ac­tion, get a clear, ob­jec­tive as­sess­ment of the sit­u­a­tion to de­ter­mine whether you re­ally are be­ing treated un­fairly.

The first ques­tion to ask your­self is whether you are op­er­at­ing at the right level, and de­liv­er­ing sat­is­fac­tory work, says Judy Good­win, a change con­sul­tant and coach in Cape Town. “If you are not con­sulted about key is­sues, con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity that you are not seen as hav­ing the re­quired ex­per­tise, or work­ing at the right level.”

Take a long, deep look at your at­ti­tude at work, and as­sess whether you are seen as some­one who of­fers con­struc­tive in­put. Are you al­ways point­ing out the prob­lems and never of­fer­ing so­lu­tions? Are you the most neg­a­tive per­son in the room? Of­ten peo­ple are side­lined be­cause they are seen as ob­sta­cles.

Also, do you talk a lot? Do you dom­i­nate con­ver­sa­tions, and mo­nop­o­lise meet­ings? Are you re­ally lis­ten­ing to oth­ers, giv­ing them space to also air their views? Are you quick to lose your tem­per, and gen­er­ally im­pa­tient? You may be ex­cluded be­cause you are not seen as a ben­e­fi­cial pres­ence.

Then again, maybe it’s not your fault at all. Your boss may be into nepo­tism, or de­lib­er­ately with­hold­ing in­for­ma­tion from you be­cause she feels threat­ened. You may be the vic­tim of a de­lib­er­ate cam­paign to strip you of your re­sources and sup­port, be­cause your boss has some Machi­avel­lian strat­egy and want you out.

But first test your as­sess­ment of the sit­u­a­tion with a trusted col­league. It may be that you are over­sen­si­tive, or don’t have all the in­for­ma­tion about the sit­u­a­tion. Get a third-party view on what is hap­pen­ing, and whether your view of what is hap­pen­ing is, in fact, cor­rect.

Step 2: Up your game. If your col­league be­lieves you may have some part in the sit­u­a­tion, make sure that you are a con­struc­tive, ac­com­moda­tive pres­ence in the of­fice, and con­sider in­ter­nal­is­ing the motto pro­moted among em­ploy­ees by the Dan­ish com­pany Lego: Don’t think less of

your­self, but think less about your­self.

It may help to get a coach on board to help your per­for­mance, or take a course that can as­sist in de­vel­op­ing your tech­ni­cal abil­i­ties, says Good­win.

Step 3: Build a strong net­work at work. There is strength in num­bers; your boss will find it more dif­fi­cult to side­line you if your col­leagues have your back. In­vest in your work­place re­la­tion­ships by be­ing loyal, gen­uine and help­ful.

Step 4: Speak truth to power. In a friendly set­ting, talk to your boss about how you are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the sit­u­a­tion.

Keep it neu­tral and stick to how the sit­u­a­tion is mak­ing you feel. Don’t ac­cuse your manager of any­thing: it will only end badly. Ask for feed­back on your per­for­mance and sug­ges­tions on where you can im­prove, and how you can be­come more in­volved in spe­cific projects.

If that fails to as­sist your po­si­tion, and his ac­tions are pro­hibit­ing you from do­ing your job, it may be time to file a for­mal griev­ance. Make sure you doc­u­ment all prej­u­di­cial ac­tions taken against you.

Some­times, how­ever, be­ing side­lined may be just the wake-up call you needed. If your work­place is de­struc­tive and toxic, you may be bet­ter off looking for a job some­where else.

It may also be a sign that you are not in the job that is best suited to you, says Good­win. “You have to be in a po­si­tion that al­lows you to add value and should al­low you to play to your strengths.” If the po­si­tion only highlights your weak­nesses, there is no real scope to im­prove your per­for­mance.

“Re­al­is­ti­cally it may then be time to find an­other job.”

Re­cent re­search by the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia’s Sauder School of Busi­ness showed that be­ing ig­nored or os­tracised has a much big­ger impact on your health and morale than be­ing out­right ha­rassed or bul­lied.

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