A member or members of a social group can be the targets of a tactic called social exclusion if another member or members of that group acts to exclude them from group activities in which the excluded persons would otherwise be invited to participate. This definition is overly broad for our purposes, because it includes such macro-societal processes as racial segregation and voter suppression. Our interest is much narrower; namely, social exclusion as it occurs in workgroups. Definitions vary, but some call this phenomenon workplace ostracism [Fiset 2017]; some call it workplace exclusion [Hitlan 2009]. Here's an example:
Geoff is new to the group, recently hired over Marie's openly expressed objections. He's expected to assume responsibility for a set of activities that Marie has been handling. Her effectiveness has been limited because of her oppressive workload, and because the activities in question really are outside her area of expertise, and even outside her area of interest. Nevertheless, ever since Geoff reported for work, Marie has been on a campaign of social exclusion. She doesn't invite Geoff to the meetings he needs to attend; she excludes him from email messages that announce or discuss matters that are important for Geoff to know; and she uses her control of access rights to the group's SharePoint sites to limit Geoff's ability to find information on his own.
It isn't difficult to add more detail to this scenario, of course, but you probably get the idea: Marie is using social exclusion to sabotage Geoff's job performance.
Bullies also use social exclusion, but they do so for very specific reasons. When bullies use social exclusion, they intend to inflict pain on the target by limiting the target's access to social support. And because targets of bullies can use social support to execute defensive or counter-offensive maneuvers, social exclusion also helps the bully by limiting the target's access to social support. But social exclusion in the bullying context isn't our focus here. Our focus is the use of social exclusion in political conflict; that is, its use in struggles for control or dominance, or as a means of imposing a particular decision on people who might otherwise reject that decision.
We can analyze this problem according to the number of Social exclusion can be
carried out on the basis of
the professional role of the target,
the organizational role of the target,
or personal attributes of the targetpeople involved. On the part of the users of social exclusion tactics, we can have either one individual or many; similarly on the part of those excluded, we can also have either one individual or many. The simplest problem is 1-by-1, mainly because of the reduced incidence of differences of opinion and levels of commitment on any one side. So let's consider the 1-by-1 case, exemplified above by Marie (the Excluder) and Geoff (the Excluded).
To execute social exclusion tactics, excluders usually rely on one or more of three factors — the professional role of the target, the organizational role of the target, and personal attributes of the target. Each kind of exclusion has its own characteristic set of results. Each kind suggests its own characteristic set of responses by the target. In this Part I, we explore the effects of excluding someone on the basis of professional role.
In what follows, the name "Marie" denotes someone using social exclusion in a 1-by-1 context. And the name "Geoff" denotes the person Marie is trying to exclude.
- Professional role of the target
- In situations in which the professional role of the target provides the principal motivation for Marie's use of social exclusion, she has advantages that enable her to conceal what she's doing. For example, she can be warm and cordial toward Geoff in public settings, to convey the impression that she is supportive and respectful. And she can exclude Geoff from meetings or conversations when his role threatens her most, including him only when she has little to lose by his presence. For instance, if Geoff represents the Marketing function for the Marigold product, Marie can include him in meetings that don't address marketing issues, or which don't address Marigold marketing. When excluders can be selective in this way, they can obfuscate the exclusion pattern, which helps them conceal their exclusion tactics and provides them a defense if their actions are ever questioned.
- However, even when Marie excludes Geoff selectively, he's likely to notice that Marie's actions are affecting his job performance. He would be wise to accumulate data about the exclusion before registering a complaint with Marie or with anyone else. To be effective, the data must provide unambiguous evidence of the pattern, even if Marie has been selective about excluding Geoff. Actually, her selectivity can strengthen Geoff's case: "Marie invites me only to meetings that I wouldn't want to attend."
Next time, we'll examine exclusion on the basis of organizational affiliation and exclusion on the basis of more personal factors. We'll close next time with a brief look at the organizational consequences of this practice, and what might be required to control it. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Is every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.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 Workplace Politics:
- Are You a Fender?
- Taking political risks is part of the job, especially if you want the challenges and rewards that come
with increased responsibility. That's fair. But some people manage political risks by offloading them
onto subordinates. Be certain that the risk burden you carry is really your own — and that you
carry all of it yourself.
- Devious Political Tactics: More from the Field Manual
- Careful observation of workplace politics reveals an assortment of devious tactics that the ruthless
use to gain advantage. Here are some of their techniques, with suggestions for effective responses.
- On Snitching at Work: I
- Some people have difficulty determining the propriety of reporting violations to authorities at work.
Proper or not, reporting violations can be simultaneously both risky and necessary.
- Bottlenecks: II
- When some people take on so much work that they become "bottlenecks," they expose the organization
to risks. Managing those risks is a first step to ending the bottlenecking pattern.
- Look Where You Aren't Looking
- Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can
also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve
our ability to prepare for adverse events?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming August 5: Red Flags: III
- Early signs of troubles in collaborations include toxic conflict, elevated turnover and anti-patterns in communication. But among the very earliest red flags are abuses of power. They're more significant than other red flags because abuses of power can convert any collaboration into a morass of destructive politics. Available here and by RSS on August 5.
- And on August 12: Cognitive Biases at Work
- Cognitive biases can lead us to misunderstand situations, overlook options, and make decisions we regret. The patterns of thinking that lead to cognitive biases provide speed and economy advantages, but we must manage the risks that come along with them. Available here and by RSS on August 12.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenuQKLUMsVubCpqOpqner@ChacCCvpZbzKGsgliMGNoCanyon.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.
- Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?
Decision-makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision-makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.