I’ve seen it happen may times in the workplace, as well as other settings. The hurt it causes is very real. More often than not, it’s not at all deliberate – at least on the conscious level. There may be no special intent to snub or insult the excluded party. Often it’s just a simple oversight. Occasionally, though, it must be admitted, there may have been a subconscious feeling on the part of the those involved that the offended person was not worthy of being included.
An example: a dozen or so people are working together in a separately located department of a large company. One day, one of the workers has a flash of inspiration. He has thought of a “brilliant” (in his opinion) idea that would dramatically improve productivity as well as making everybody’s workload much lighter. An extremely animated discussion, which continues for several days, breaks out among almost all the staffers. What are the ideas’s merits and demerits? Will it really work Should it be presented to management for consideration, and if so, when?
I wrote “almost” because one staff member doesn’t participate in the debate. Why? Simply because he doesn’t know about it.
Perhaps he is somewhat introverted, or possibly he is the hardest worker in the team and doesn’t spend time hanging around the water cooler as the others do, or he concentrates so hard while he is working that he is deaf to outside distractions, such as the idle chatter of his fellow workers. Or perhaps his workspace just happens to be situated a little further away from the spot where most of the other people are working. Or perhaps he just happened to be out of the office when the subject was first raised, and subsequently everybody assumed that he heard about it and just wasn’t interested in joining in the debate.
At any rate, when our loner finally – just by chance – hears of what’s been going on, he feels very hurt. “Why was I snubbed?” he asks himself. “Is my input worth nothing? Doesn’t anybody value my opinion? Don’t they know that any decision they make will affect me also?” If he is able to analyze this develpment objectively, his head might tell him that the omission was purely inadvertent. His emotions, however, will tell him a different story. Of course, if he already suffers from low self-esteem, this only makes it worse. And his personal productivity might take a nosedive for days or even weeks to come.
What inspired me to write this little piece was body language expert Carol Kinsey Goman’s latest article on our site, appropritely entitled Ouch, You Excluded Me! Dr Goman describes a fascinating experiment carried out by social neuroscientists at the University of California. When volunteer subjects were made to feel excluded in a certain situation – even though this was a perception that had no basis in reality - an immediate reaction was recorded in that part of their brains involved in registering pain. In other words, they found that the feeling of being excluded provokes the same sort of reaction in the brain that physical pain might cause.
As a result, Dr Goman warns people in leadership positions that when they “appear to play favorites by using more positive nonverbal signals — smiles, eye contact, forward leans, etc. — with some people than with others or when your body language actually excludes some individuals, those behaviors can result in ‘hurt’ feelings that are, actually, painful. “
Azriel Winnett is the author of the highly acclaimed, eye-opening book How to Build Relationships That Stick. An enhanced edition is now available as a paperback.