The term used to describe the process of joining a group is social entry. Although the term applies to joining any kind of group, people use special social entry strategies for specific situations. Social entry at work is particularly important, because the results can affect so much of the rest of our daily lives [Brenner 2013]. Familiarity with a variety of entry strategies gives us the flexibility needed to adapt to new or evolving situations, and to make the entry process more effective.
Familiarity with trouble patterns associated with social entry is also helpful. Knowing how to recognize trouble patterns in social entry helps supervisors when they notice difficulties encountered by new hires; it helps new hires when they notice difficulty starting a new job; it helps new team members if they encounter difficulty finding a place in a new or existing team.
One common trouble pattern might be called entry intimidation. In this pattern, either the new entrant — or one or more members of the group itself — experiences feelings of intimidation as the new entrant and the group go about finding a place for the new entrant in the group. Entry intimidation is a particularly costly trouble pattern because it can delay the development of a new social order. In some cases, entry intimidation can provide fuel for toxic conflict, and even prevent completely the formation of a new and effective social order.
Below is a set of examples of situations that can lead to feelings of intimidation on the part of the new group member or existing members of the group. In what follows, I use the names Neal or Nan for the new entrant. The first two examples illustrate issues involving the supervisor of the work group Neal or Nan is entering. The second two examples illustrate issues more personal either to the new group member or to existing group members.
- Inadvertent subversion
- Well-meaning Well-meaning supervisors can
inadvertently subvert the
entry efforts of new hiressupervisors can inadvertently subvert the entry efforts of new hires by assigning to them responsibilities that offer opportunities for the new hire to engage with many existing group members, but which simultaneously cast the new hire in a role subordinate to everyone else, or worse, subordinate to the new hire's own role.
- For example, one such role is collecting donations for a seasonal charity fund drive or gift drive. Although the role does compel Neal to engage with everyone, the nature of the engagement places him in a "seeking" position that can inadvertently subvert his attempts to find and consolidate a position of respect in the group.
- As a supervisor, assign this kind of responsibility instead to individuals who are well respected. As a new entry, if you find yourself in this unfortunate position, recognize that explaining the nature of the error to your supervisor is unlikely to work. And questioning your new supervisor's decisions so early in your relationship is in any case unwise. You'll just have to make do, unless some special feature of your relationship with your supervisor suggests that questioning the assignment might work.
- If the group harbors a bully or bullies, Nan is about to enter a problematic situation. Not only is she facing the usual risks of entry, but she must also find a way to deal with the bullying.
- As a new entry, two different responses might be required. First, if the supervisor is aware of the bullying, then danger might be close at hand, because bullying — if present at all — tends to be a chronic feature of small group cultures. Even if this particular bully arrived only recently, a bully might have been present earlier. If the supervisor tolerates bullying, feeling intimidated about entry is a perfectly healthy response. Searching for an exit is even healthier.
- Second, if the supervisor is unaware of the bullying, one must wonder about that. If the supervisor is a recent arrival, reporting the bullying to the supervisor might work. But if the bullying is chronic, and if the supervisor has been chronically unaware, danger is again close at hand, and searching for an exit might be the best approach.
- As defined in "You Remind Me of Helen Hunt," Point Lookout for June 6, 2001, "hat hanging" happens when we identify something about our present circumstances with something from past circumstances. In entry intimidation, hat hanging can be a contributing factor when Neal identifies someone in the new group with someone whom he found intimidating in his past experience. In other words, Neal's feelings of intimidation arise from the misidentification rather than from actual present experience.
- Resolving this misidentification can be difficult for everyone in the group, because it's likely that only Neal knows enough about his past experience to notice the incongruity. And it can be difficult for Neal as well, because of the nature of the hat hanging process. Neal might be completely unaware of the misidentification.
- The supervisor can intervene, however, if he or she knows what to look for, at least in one case. If Neal seems intimidated by someone who has no similar effect on others, the likelihood of hat hanging by Neal is elevated. However, if Neal seems to be intimidated by someone who has had that effect on others, even the supervisor might be unable to recognize the hat hanging.
- Defenses or sabotage
- Upon learning that Nan will be entering the group, one or more members of the group might perceive threats to their own positions. They might take steps to protect themselves by creating obstacles to Nan's search for a place of respect within the group. These steps can range from the more passive — withholding information or failing to offer assistance — to more active forms of sabotage or even hazing.
- When these lapses or actions take place, supervisors can intervene, of course, but prevention is much preferable. Supervisors can prevent these problems in advance of Nan's arrival by setting expectations. They can state clearly that they expect members of the group to take the initiative to assist Nan's smooth entry into the group. In my experience, most supervisors could do much more than they do routinely.
- New entrants would do well to prepare to encounter defenses or sabotage, but not expect it. Preparations for defenses could involve seeking information from multiple sources, instead of relying on a single source who might provide incomplete or inaccurate information. Preparation for sabotage could involve making multiple copies of work products and secreting backups where they cannot easily be altered or destroyed.
Social entry is difficult enough when all involved mean well. Sadly, some people who do mean well do make mistakes, and some don't mean well at all, for whatever reason. For best results, assume that people do mean well, and learn to recognize those who don't. Top Next Issue
Occasionally we have the experience of belonging to a great team. Thrilling as it is, the experience is rare. In part, it's rare because we usually strive only for adequacy, not for greatness. We do this because we don't fully appreciate the returns on greatness. Not only does it feel good to be part of great team — it pays off. Check out my Great Teams Workshop to lead your team onto the path toward greatness. More info
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Email Antics: III
- Nearly everyone complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own
actions. Here's Part III of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
- Confirmation Bias: Workplace Consequences Part I
- We continue our exploration of confirmation bias, paying special attention to the consequences it causes
in the workplace. In this part, we explore its effects on our thinking.
- The Tyranny of Singular Nouns
- When groups try to reach decisions, and the issue in question has a name that suggests a unitary concept,
such as "policy," they sometimes collectively assume that they're required to find a one-size-fits-all
solution. This assumption leads to poor decisions when one-size-fits-all isn't actually required.
- Meets Expectations
- Many performance management systems include ratings such as "meets expectations," "exceeds
expectations," and "needs improvement." Many find the "meets" rating demoralizing.
- The Goal Is Not the Path
- Sometimes, when reaching a goal is more difficult than we thought at first, instead of searching for
another way to get there, we adjust the goal. There are alternatives.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 11: The Rhyme-as-Reason Effect
- When we speak or write, the phrases we use have both form and meaning. Although we usually think of form and meaning as distinct, we tend to assess as more meaningful and valid those phrases that are more beautifully formed. The rhyme-as-reason effect causes us to confuse the validity of a phrase with its aesthetics. Available here and by RSS on December 11.
- And on December 18: The Trap of Beautiful Language
- As we assess the validity of others' statements, we risk making a characteristically human error — we confuse the beauty of their language with the reliability of its meaning. We're easily thrown off by alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and chiasmus. Available here and by RSS on December 18.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenrDUDwWaUxOAJtKFRner@ChaclWPJpPZohNvtYLEJoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.