Psychologist and author Meredith Fuller identifies in her book the dysfunctional Office Excluder personality. Fuller describes how they will render you invisible in the office, and what you can do about it.
Fuller explains that the excluder is cruel and annihilating. Their lack of acknowledgement is denigrating and demeaning. These people show no remorse about pretending you don’t exist. The more subtle excluder will withhold information such as lunches or venue changes. By withholding information they seek to render you powerless.
The excluder will have eyes front, head forward and walk on by with no recognition of the person they have excluded. Fuller explains “This behaviour is particularly nasty and is the one that most closely resembles school experiences of being ignored or memories of the ‘in’ group and ‘out’ group.”
By recognising the excluder’s behaviour and understanding it will give you the power to be able to deal with it.
Some key excluder behaviour includes:
- They appear not to hear your ‘hello’.
- They walk straight past you yet still manage to smile and say hello to other people in their path.
- They fail to pass messages to you.
- They fail to provide you with crucial information.
- They stop conversation when you enter the room.
- They might occasionally catch your gaze and snarl, ‘What are you looking at…? Adding insult at the end.
- They might roll their eyes, snort, or make a derogatory comment,if you name comes up in conversation.
- They will walk away, muttering, ‘It’s not worth talking about’ or ‘If you can’t figure it out, I’m not telling you’ if you try to find out what’s wrong.
- They won’t make the effort with anyone who can’t help their career.
- They may speak to you again if they suddenly become useful, as though nothing odd has ever happened between you.
Why does the excluder behave like this?
There are four reasons that trigger the excluder’s behaviour. It is wise to be aware of these, so you can avoid making the situation worse. Sometimes the exclusion may not be about you, and it might be a short-term solution that can be resolved.
The four triggers are:
- They are hurt and angry – This could be something you have done to make them hurt and angry. However it could also be an issue outside of work and their way of dealing with it is to shut you out rather than talk about it.
- They dislike you – The excluder has no interest in changing their behaviour. The only way this will change is if a manager reads them the riot act.
- You are of no use to them – They are an ill-mannered ladder climber and you need to ask yourself if you wish to be acknowledged by this person or not.
- You are a threat – It is unlikely this behaviour will change particularly if you are at a similar level. This can come from a primitive level and dealing with a threat is their way of saying “I am annihilating you; you do not exist.”
What to do when you work with an excluder:
You are now probably wondering how you can make this situation better. When you hear nothing from the excluder regardless of what you do, you get to the point where you feel you have no right to ask for anything, say anything or even give constructive criticism. The bottom line is the excluder is not interested in communicating with you at all.
Some tips on dealing with the excluder are:
- Wait for a while then see how you feel. Don’t react on the spot.
- You could approach the excluder and say something like; I’ve noticed that you haven’t spoken to me for over a week. Have I done something? Can we sort this out?
- If they refuse to interact and ignore you then at least you know you have tried your best to address the situation.
- Work out other ways of getting the information you need to get your job done properly. Even if it takes more effort and time it will cause you less pain in the long run.
- Reducing your contribution or creativity in order to mollify them won’t help your case- they still won’t change their perception of you. Your dumbing down ploy will probably turn their exclusion into contempt.
- Ask yourself what, specifically upsets you. Is it walking past them? Is it wondering how they will react in a meeting? Is it wondering if other people have noticed? Are you thinking the worst that everyone knows and think you are the problem? Interestingly unless it is overt, other people in an office usually remain unaware.
- In public, calmly say hello or whatever basic statement is required. If they stay silent, that is their decision. Act very measured and calm and continue on with whatever you are doing. You are modelling adult behaviour in front of others – don’t make a fuss your poise will be remembered.
- Don’t attempt to goad them, and don’t try to get a reaction. This won’t help your situation in the long run.
Having someone exclude you in the office can be cruel and can cause real anxiety. If you can identify the traits and work on dealing with them in a professional manner this can help make your job easier. If the situation is really extreme it might be an idea to see a physiologist or speak to your manager about the situation.