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Volume 19, Issue 33;   August 14, 2019: Workplace Politics and Social Exclusion: II

Workplace Politics and Social Exclusion: II

by

In workplace politics, social exclusion can be based on the professional role of the target, the organizational role of the target, or personal attributes of the target. Each kind has its own effects. Each requires specific responses.
A lonely chimpanzee

In last week's post, I began to explore social exclusion tactics in the workplace-political context. I noted that social exclusion tactics are used broadly, and that this context is special. In workplace politics, social exclusion is used mainly to establish or maintain control or dominance, or to prevail in workplace debates. To illustrate, I explored how excluders can use the professional role of the target as a basis for executing exclusion tactics, and suggested one possible response to use when you find yourself being excluded.

Let's now continue that exploration of how excluders execute their tactics. I'll close with a brief look at the organizational consequences of social exclusion, and what it takes to prevent the use of these tactics. As in Part I, I use the name Marie to denote a person using social exclusion politically, and the name Geoff to denote the person she is targeting.

Organizational affiliation of the target
When Geoff's organizational affiliation is what Marie seeks to exclude, her choice of tactics is more limited than it would be if she were trying to exclude Geoff's professional role. For example, the Project Management Office might have issued a rule that a representative of the office must participate in certain kinds of meetings. If Geoff is the designated representative, then Marie might be unable to simply exclude him from the invitation list. Even so, she can send him notification of the meeting later than she sends it to other attendees, or she can deliver documents to him later than to others, or she can schedule meetings that he can't attend due to conflicts, travel, or vacations. Or she can organize agendas so that the most sensitive topics fall during parts of the meeting that Geoff cannot attend due to conflicts.
Just as Social exclusion can be based on
professional role, organizational
affiliation, or personal attributes
Marie's options are more limited in this case, Geoff's options are limited as well. To support a claim that she is intentionally disadvantaging him, Geoff must have access to the schedules of other attendees, or access to the email messages sent by Marie to other attendees. Because it's unlikely that he can get such access, Geoff might have difficulty securing data supporting his claim of social exclusion. In that case, Geoff must be cleverer.
For example, he can post on his calendar fake meetings, medical appointments, or other commitments to tempt Marie to adjust her meetings or meeting agendas to conflict with Geoff's fake calendar items. When he attends Marie's events unexpectedly, he can explain, if asked, that his other conflicting commitment was cancelled. Or Geoff can work with IT to sort out his "email problem," which results in his not receiving Marie's messages when everyone else does. IT might discover that Geoff hadn't been added to the appropriate distribution lists, or — more deviously — that he had been added, but his user ID was misspelled. You never know until you ask.
Ultimately, if the problem persists, Geoff must deal with Marie's actions as a performance issue.
Personal attributes of the target
When Marie's motivation for excluding Geoff arises from some of Geoff's personal attributes or history, her actions are most constrained. For example, in the initial scenario described last time, Marie openly opposed Geoff's hiring. In such circumstances, some of her colleagues might be expecting Marie to act with prejudice against Geoff. They might be especially sensitive to Marie's exclusionary tactics. To insulate herself against accusations of exclusion, Marie will need to take actions that seem to include Geoff, and she must carefully cloak any exclusionary actions. Still, if she's clever, and if she has enough close allies, she can get most of what she wants.
In this case, Geoff's options are also limited. For example, in the initial scenario described last time, he might be unaware that Marie opposed his hiring. And few others would be inclined to tell him. In cases like that, and others, Geoff might have no reason to expect social exclusion. He might even be unaware of it until it has already affected his performance. There isn't much Geoff can do to deal with something he knows nothing about.
Knowledge of Marie's tactics is fundamental to developing useful responses. That's why Geoff's highest priority, whether he's a new hire or an old hand, is to enhance his situational awareness. For example, Marie might be making deprecatory comments about Geoff at meetings he doesn't or can't attend: "Looks like Geoff is still too busy to attend our meetings." Evidence that she's attacking him can be helpful when he ultimately registers a complaint.

The consequences of social exclusion for Geoff are obvious. If he's a new hire or a transfer, social exclusion tactics delay — and in some cases prevent — his orientation to his new responsibilities and his integration into the group. But he is also at risk of failing to perform. If Geoff is already in place when he becomes a target of social exclusion tactics, his performance will gradually degrade.

The consequences for the organization are no less severe, but they're more likely to be misunderstood. Management likely believes that they've provided the necessary resources to meet organizational goals, and indeed they have. But because Marie has effectively compromised Geoff's performance, Management is likely to identify Geoff's poor performance as the root cause of the failure to attain organizational goals. In fact, his performance has been poor, but it isn't the root cause of the organizational disappointment. A more fundamental cause is Marie's use of social exclusion tactics. Replacing Geoff, which is the likely next step most managers would take, won't address this more fundamental cause.

Preventing the practice of social exclusion requires open monitoring of meeting invitations, online discussions, meeting scheduling practices, access to information sharing platforms, or any other activities that provide team leads opportunities to decide who participates in what. Prevention is better than repair. First in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Perfectionism and Avoidance  Next Issue

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