Skip to main content

Trump Card: How To Make the Most of Your Outsider Status At Work

2016 is the Year of the Outsider in politics. Voters want to shake things up, and how! It's out with the old, and in with the new. But how can you make the most of your outsider status at work?

From temporary workers to independent contractors to the stoic Lone Ranger in need of a Tonto, the workplace is filled with outsiders. These employees feel like they haven't quite been fully welcomed into the company tent, so to speak. Instead of feeling embraced by their peers, they feel kept at arm's length.

Is it their employment status, their personality, their appearance, their age, their gender, their background, their ideas, their sense of independence from group-think, their avoidance of the company holiday party, or something else? Sometimes it can be hard to know. What these employees do know, however, is that no matter how hard they try, they just don't seem to fit into the office toolbox. Hey, if the shoe fits, right?


This topic has been brewing in the back of my mind for weeks now as I observe the infinite loop of exhilaration, sadness, angst and fear generated by this year's presidential primary season. The news cycle has been effortlessly breathless, and has coughed up many nights of cable news appointment television. Keep the popcorn ready, and your voter registration up to date.

The cold, hard truth is that when people are grouped together -- at school, at a party, in a political party, or at the workplace -- subgroups will form and you have to find your spot. And sometimes, you might feel, well, like an elephant at a donkey party, or vice versa. So how can you change your outsider status at work?

First, you have to decide if you desire to be more of an insider, because many outsiders at work actually revel in their "outsider" status, sort of like Janeane Garofalo's character Heather Mooney in Romy and Michelle's High School Reunion. You're actually glad you don't quite fit in, because you like your quirky independence, and your individuality. You work for the paycheck or for the cool projects, not for the social scene and general workplace conviviality. If you're comfortable with your "outsider" status at work -- and management isn't telling you in performance reviews to be more of a "team player," cough -- then feel free to maintain the status quo.

If you feel like an outsider but you don't want to be one, however, then you'll have to step up your inside game. You might smile more often; reveal your sly sense of humor (you know you have one!); do more listening than talking (because people like to talk about themselves); regurgitate interesting things your co-workers have said to show you're paying attention ("I remember you telling me last week that you take yoga, is it fun?"); compliment your co-workers (but only when you're truly sincere about it); be more flexible in your work style (go ahead, extend the deadline); become more of a "joiner"; consider all sides before forming an opinion; and strive to be fair in all your workplace dealings. Even if your efforts have minimal effect, at least you'll know you've tried as you send out another resume.

You can reach into your workplace toolbox in other ways, too. Start small, and see where you can divide and conquer. If a group of co-workers makes you feel like somewhat of an outsider, then find the one co-worker in the group who seems the most approachable. Strike up a conversation, ask them to coffee, or refer to the tips in the previous paragraph and employ them on the job. If you can get this colleague on your side a little bit, then it's a small step toward greater workplace inclusion at some later date. A good inside game takes time, and a lot of effort. Play to the constituency you hope to build.

Most importantly: stop viewing yourself as a lowly outsider at work! If you're walking into work every day thinking, "My co-workers make me feel like I don't belong here," then you'll need to re-frame your defeatist mindset. The company cast a vote of confidence in hiring you, so find the confidence in that knowledge. Confidence is contagious.

In sum, you belong just as much as your colleagues, which, when you think about it, is exactly the point Mr. Sanders and Mr. Trump -- our two most prominent outsiders du jour -- are trying to prove to their parties. Maybe there are some good, workplace-related takeaways from their respective examples? #Discuss.

Besides, if everyone at work were the same, then the workplace would be incredibly static and even more boring. As a workplace outsider, you can bring a different perspective and a bold approach to old ideas. And you're not alone. In fact, you're in good company! Now go find your other shoe, will you? Maybe it's in your toolbox.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Seven tips for dealing with a jealous coworker

Look at you, doing so well at work! We're so happy for you. Well, most of us are happy for you and refuse to spend the entire work day talking behind your back. Let's talk about how to handle our jealous co-workers!Like every other professional, you've no doubt experienced your share of failures and successes. Lately, however, things seem to be going your way at work. And how! Perhaps you've managed to ace an important project this quarter, been instrumental in landing a huge client, earned some well-deserved rewards for this and that, or -- egads! -- been given a slight promotion or additional work responsibilities (e.g., the work responsibilities you actually want).You're quietly chuffed, but somehow your co-workers seem none too pleased with this rapid turn of events. Oh no, what should you do now?It's a workplace tale older than the disjointed last season of Mad Men. The playing field in the department was even, cozy and overall very friendly -- until so-an…

Employees Blame Technology For Slowing Them Down At Work

Do you feel like you're always working, but never getting very much done? If so, you're not alone. Too much technology, and too much red tape, keep slowing us down at work. But technology, and more of it, is supposed to make our lives easier! Too much technology, however, does not compute for employees. A new SAP/Knowledge@Wharton survey of almost 700 corporate employees finds a full 60% of respondents blame technology "for inhibiting their ability to meet strategic goals." Gee, anyone who has ever used the self-checkout line at the grocery store can tell you that. However, 40% surveyed said that looking for ways to simplify the technology has been "a low priority" for their company. Too much paperwork is an on-going problem for the workplace, too. A new ServiceNow survey of nearly 1,000 managers finds that 90% are doing too much administrative work, no matter the size of the company. This paperwork includes filling out forms, writing status updates, …

Is Your Co-worker Always Late For Work?

You've started the workday, but where is your co-worker? Oh, she's running late again, just like yesterday. And the day before. And the day before that. Let's get an early start on solving her tardiness problem, shall we? Working with someone who is consistently late is one of the most annoying aspects of office life, and also one of the most common, unfortunately. It's a universal theme of the workplace that everyone will get to work on time (give or take a few minutes...) except for the employee who is egregiously late nearly every day. And the excuses can get pretty amazing. Employees became more punctual as the Great Recession lingered, at least according to surveys. Everyone, that is, except for your able-bodied but habitually-tardy co-worker. It's bad enough dealing with tardiness when you're a manager, but it can be even more frustrating when you're a rank-and-file peer without any magical "shape up or ship out" managerial powers. So you…