For many of you, work is where you spend most of your time, so you want to feel like you fit in with at least one or two colleagues. In turn, you like to think that your colleagues think you’re kind of okay, too.
But…at lunchtime, you walk into the staff room and sit among a group of people having an animated conversation. Not only do they ignore you when you sit there, but if you utter a word, the conversation ends abruptly as if you’ve just told them their dog has died.
We can all relate to that gut-wrenching feeling of being the new person to a team who make it clear you’re not ‘part’ of their group. If you’re more of an introverted person, this type of situation can be even harder to face.
This type of group is what most of us will know as the dreaded clique. Unfortunately though, it’s not something that’s left behind in the school playground — these select group of people only speak to one another and, whether knowingly or not, exclude others who don’t fit into their ‘group’. These groups can strike anywhere and cause all sorts of barriers and conflicts in the workplace.
So what’s the best way of dealing with these cliques and not letting them stop you forging ahead in your career? The clique group shouldn’t stop you from getting ahead at work.
Here are some tips to try when dealing with cliques:
Of course, if you’re comfortable sitting with the group while they’re chatting and ignoring you, that’s great. Don’t be afraid to say hi or to give them a friendly smile just because they don’t speak to you. By smiling and being pleasant, you’re demonstrating that you’re professional and friendly, as well as adaptable to others.
If they’re friendly back, all the better, but that doesn’t mean you need to become friends — why would you want to be friends with people who exclude others? If nobody returns your friendly greeting, they’re showing themselves to be the very opposite — unwelcoming and maybe even a little rude.
Handy tip: If you’re unsure of what to say, pay someone in the group a compliment. These always make people feel good, can be unexpected and can help break the ice. Tell somebody how much you like their shoes or compliment their hair — this is bound to have nothing but positive effects!
Avoid the gossip
You may feel like you need to get involved in the latest gossip to feel part of the group but, actually, it’s wiser not to take this road.
It can be especially tempting if you happen to know something related to their topic of conversation that you know would have all ears on you. The boss’ new partner, the cute IT technician — it would make you very popular if you shared something they didn’t know.
In the short-term.
But what would seem great in one moment might not do you any favours in the long-term, as it would show that you can’t keep things to yourself, and that you spread rumours.
Not so great if you’re going to be looking for a promotion in the near future.
Handy tip: Listen in, but busy yourself with a task on your computer so that you’re not at any point tempted to join in. This way, you get to know the gossip, but not CREATE the gossip.
Don’t Be Intimidated
If you’re less outgoing than some other people, it can feel hard enough to approach a group of people. This is especially true if the group is in the middle of a conversation and you saying hello means that everyone stops talking and looks as if you like you’re the devil in disguise for interrupting them. With a clique, you could be ignored altogether.
As a reserved person, it can feel isolating when a group of colleagues are chatting or gossiping around you. It can sound like they’re having a giggle about something you’re not invited to be a part of. Even though you may not care about the topic, naturally we all want to feel included and like we are involved.
Try not to take it personally when this happens. Remember that there’s nothing wrong with who you are as a person and
Handy tip: Remain professional and carry on with your work and smile along as you listen to the conversation around you. Remember that there are others in your life who do value you as a person. If there’s a colleague you get on with, go and start a conversation with them to remind yourself of this.
Make Friends With the Clique Members
When the clique members are on their own, you may find that they act differently. When not surrounded in their usual group, it can be easier to start a conversation or to break the ice a bit. Once you’ve done this with one person, the next time you see them in their group, you can say hello and they may introduce you to others in the group. Again, this doesn’t mean you have to become friends and join the group, but by at least becoming on friendly terms with some of the group, you won’t feel so secluded or that the group has such a negative impact on you at work.
Handy tip: Think of something you’re good at in work and offer to help somebody if they’re struggling. I once helped a clique member with formatting a document and this helped ease up struggling conversation between us.
Speak With Colleagues Around the Workplace
As a clique member, often they don’t generally speak to many people outside of their group and tend to group together often. Then there’s you, who doesn’t have a set group and instead has colleagues from different departments that you speak to and get on with.
Feel proud that you’re a rounded enough person that you can create positive and healthy relationships with people from different backgrounds.
Handy tip: You can always share your feelings about the clique with someone you trust. This will help to unload your feelings and, you never know, there may be others who feel the same way!
Get Involved With Extra Tasks
If you’re an introvert, of course it doesn’t mean that you don’t like speaking to people, and getting involved with a one-off project or task your boss has asked people to volunteer for, can be a great idea. Not only will it make you stand out as someone who takes on extra work tried out new things, but it can also be a way of meeting other members of staff. There may even be clique members who also want to get involved. This way, you can get to know some of the group when they’re not with the whole group.
So, when the boss asks staff at the next team meeting for staff to volunteer for a project, be sure to put your hand up and go ahead! This could be anything from helping organise the annual staff sports event, the staff Christmas dinner or with a one-off project.
Handy tip: Make extra effort to get to know individuals you end up working with — including the clique groups. You may find that, when not with their clique, they’re completely different and very nice people, easing any tension between you.
Ask the Boss for Team Building and Conflict Resolution
When it feels like you’re trying to make inroads with the clique but getting nowhere, you can feel at a dead-end. Even though you’re doing all you can to be friendly, professional and get on with your work, you may still feel like the negativity emitting from the clique is really bugging you. It may even cause you to be less productive in your work.
Try speaking with your manager about the situation and how it’s making you feel. If your manager’s good at their job, what they should already be doing is taking actions to get different staff members to work together, and organising team building workshops and similar time out from work for staff to mingle and strengthen their relationships.
However, if you feel like this just isn’t happening, it may be worth asking for this from your manager.
Handy tip: If you’re feeling brave enough, you can try asserting yourself by confronting one of the clique members in the midst of their inappropriate conversation or comments about somebody else. You can do this in a professional way in front of one or two other staff members. This tells them that what they’re saying isn’t right, but in a constructive and professional way and might even make them think twice next time.
The clique group doesn’t need to be a group that stops you from succeeding at work or in your career, but there are ways of managing the issues so that you can get on positively in your job.
Emma Otusajo is a freelance writer and editor, who has worked with businesses to assist with articles and blog posts on the topics of career, events and housing sectors. She loves being able to use her writing skills to provide insightful information to a target audience and help businesses grow their brand.