Workplace exclusion: Dealing with the pain of feeling left out

Do you remember the feeling of standing alone at the edge of the playground, watching other kids having fun together? Or the feeling of being the last picked for the school sports team?  

Being left out of the group hurts. Neurological studies show that the pain of being excluded is experienced by the same part of your brain that processes the pain from stubbing your toe or cutting your finger. Social belonging is a fundamental human need – we are social animals and crave the acceptance of our pack. The feeling of belonging to our workplace ‘pack’ is vital for our self-esteem and psychological well-being.

Maybe you’ve experienced workplace ostracism yourself. Perhaps you’ve made a difficult decision and you know there’s resistance to it amongst staff. You see people getting together in the office and you imagine they’re discussing your decision; you assume they’re questioning your judgement. You begin to suffer from confirmation bias – you assume that people are excluding you, so everything you see confirms it. It triggers past experiences of being rejected – you see yourself alone in the schoolyard, looking wistfully at the other kids. That hurt childhood feeling comes flooding back.

It can trigger denial, and often I hear this: “I’m fine, I don’t care, I’m here to work, not make friendships.” People have a natural tendency to build walls around their feelings to prevent painful feelings from seeping in. But we are wired to connect, and exclusion can impact us in a deep way that clouds rationality.

If you find yourself in this place, it’s vital to really understand what you are experiencing. Name your feelings, recognise where they are coming from. If hurt from your past is being triggered, acknowledge the emotion and put it in its rightful place – what is happening now bears no relationship to it.

The feeling of exclusion can lead to defensive behaviours. You batten down the hatches rather than remaining curious and exploring other possible explanations for your feeling of exclusion. You may project the behaviour – in fear of being rejected, you reject the other person first.

Instead, try to test your assumptions. Connection can be as subtle as offering to make someone a coffee when you’re going to the kitchen. A simple first approach may be all that’s needed to start softening the feeling of rejection. Confide in other trusted colleagues who may be able to give you a second opinion – even if they can’t validate your experience, they may be able to give you a new, helpful perspective. Spend more time with colleagues who value your contribution and create a broader work network to provide other avenues of information and support.

Workplace exclusion can be a particularly insidious form of bullying. If the situation persists and impacts your ability to effectively perform your role, you should document all instances of exclusion you experience and follow your organisation's procedures for dealing with workplace bullying. That may mean confronting the person or people, or discussing the issue with the HR team.

Above all, don’t ignore the feeling and hope it goes away. Address what you can within yourself, acknowledging your emotions and where they come from, recognising your vulnerability, and practicing self-compassion. Then, if you do need to take further action, you’ll be able to do so from a place of psychological strength and clarity.

  

I can help resolve conflict and improve workplace culture. Don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like advice or support in creating a psychologically safe workplace for your employees. I can be contacted by email at debbie@dksonin.com.au, on LinkedIn at www.linkedin.com/in/debbiesonin or by phone on 0413 145 925.

 

Debbie is warm, friendly and helpful and always makes challenges manageable.
Kurt Porflit, Managing Director, Busch Australia
Debbie is approachable, professional and practical. She provides consistent quality support and is a great sounding board. Dealing with Debbie is like an extension of our own organisation. She understands the business and moulds her style around us.
Brant Doyle, Manager Organisational Development, Moira Shire Council
Debbie is sensitive, engaging, warm… She is able to see the challenges and opportunities and find solutions in quick and practical way.
Greg Embleton, CEO, Byte
I will be forever indebted to the person who recommended DK Sonin & Associates to me… Debbie just did not write a report and leave. She worked with the organisation at all levels to bring the recommendations alive.
Andrea O'Neill, General Manager, Berrigan & District Aged Care Association
Deb's professional, warm and sincere approach is evident in her engagement with individuals and management alike through difficult and sensitive matters, with her ability to gain respect from all parties that facilitates successful outcomes.
Linda South, General Manager, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital
I recommend Debbie Sonin to any employer who wants to provide their staff with opportunities to turn workplace behaviours around, improve their teamwork or learn new ways of interacting with others.
Robyn Shilton, Executive Officer, Community West Inc
Debbie has always demonstrated an appreciation of the industrial and personal impacts of her work, and has achieved results beyond what might have been expected given the complexity of the matter.
Estelle Fyffe, CEO, annecto
With her clinical and human resources background, Debbie offers a unique value proposition for businesses that want to implement change… Debbie always goes above and beyond for her clients and thinks deeply about providing solutions that will work for all parties.
Catherine Brooks, Practice Leader, Moores
Deb Sonin's breadth of experience across change management, industrial relations and conflict resolution is evident in her unique ability to address complex and intractable issues to synthesise the complexity into workable, tangible, successful results.
Linda South, General Manager, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital
Debbie is highly skilled and engaging, making interactions professional and fun. Personally, Debbie is great to work with and is always able to have a chat about a situation that might arise outside of the regular engagements.
Sue Rolland, General Manager, Deakin University Student Association
Debbie is an astute observer, facilitator and communicator. She is a highly skilled mediator and excels in coaching team leaders to effectively manage and improve team dynamics, behaviours and interactions.
Leigh Rhode, Chief Executive Officer, Gateway Health
Debbie provides a sense of calmness and direction during difficult situations to help me remain in control. The experience and knowledge that Debbie brings is incredibly useful and helps me to get the most out of the team I work with.
Liz Moore CPA, Practice Manager, Bluebird Accounting
Deb Sonin is an acknowledged expert in workplace conflict resolution and has extensive experience advising on discrimination, sexual harassment and bullying. Deb’s professional background makes her an obvious choice to assist with difficult cultural and interpersonal issues in the workplace.
Michael Gorton AM, Principal, Russell Kennedy Lawyers
Debbie is an extremely talented and resourceful practitioner, demonstrating a deep and extensive understanding, knowledge and expertise in mediation, coaching and facilitation. Whenever I need support from an external provider in facilitating a conversation, I engage Debbie.
Brant Doyle, Manager Organisational Development, Moira Shire Council
Debbie operated with integrity, sensitivity and empathy for all within our team and encouraged staff to find their voice in sharing their experiences of the dynamics of the workplace.
Peter Nancarrow, Chairperson of the Board, Jacaranda Village
I have a high level of trust in Debbie’s ability to read the dynamics of a work environment and to co-design and implement respectful and thoughtful approaches to solving problems and improving team functioning.
Leigh Rhode, Chief Executive Officer, Gateway Health
Copyright © 2020 DK Sonin & Associates Pty Ltd | Privacy | Terms