The reality is, almost 50 percent of workers say their workplace has cliques (according to CareerBuilder), so it’s not something many of us can avoid. But you can learn to deal with it effectively.
Why do cliques exist?
Katherine Crowley, coauthor of Mean Girls At Work and Working With You Is Killing Me, notes, “At work, joining a clique can give you a feeling of security, a sense of identity. We find that office cliques tend to form most in corporate environments with weak management. They are like office gangs that emerge to fill in the void of leadership.”
Now, that doesn’t mean having friends at work is a bad thing. Going to lunch every day with the same group of friends isn’t necessarily a clique. Cliques are characterized by their exclusionary practices and tendency to pressure both group members and those outside the group to follow their lead. If there is a clique in your office, dealing with it isn’t always easy, but there are ways to stay on the high road.
Watch what you say
Things happen at work that are going to tick you — and others — off. But watch what you say. Don’t bad-mouth anyone, whether a coworker or your boss. Even if you’re out of the office, you don’t know who’s listening. The waiter who’s refilling your tea may have a personal relationship with the person you’re trashing, even if it’s just that they chat while that person’s eating at the same restaurant.
Spend a little time each night before you go to bed checking in on the local news or celebrity gossip. That way, if you get stuck in a gossip-fest, you can redirect the conversation to something equally juicy that doesn’t apply to a fellow coworker.
Play it close to the vest
You’re at work to work, not to make friends. Sure, someone you work with can become a close friend, but don’t assume everyone at the office is being open about his or her feelings or true intentions. Letting people know too many details of your personal life could give those with an agenda the fodder they need to get ahead at your expense. If someone’s set on stepping on you to get ahead, this person will exaggerate the truth, and you may not be asked for your side of the story before it all unfolds.
Channel your inner Pollyanna
Pollyanna, brought to the screen by Disney legend Hayley Mills, was known for her ability to keep a smile on her face no matter how nasty someone else was to her. If someone is dead set on being a b****, you’re not going to change her, but if you treat everyone with professionalism and respect, you’d be surprised how many people will have your back later. If someone says something that rubs you the wrong way, play the Glad Game in your head until the urge to tell this person off subsides.
Infiltrating the Boys' Club
Dealing with cliques is even harder for a woman in a male-dominated industry. Doris B., former Wall Street banker turned leadership development coach, suggests the following if you’re confronted with workplace cliques comprised of men.
- Get to know the members of the clique better individually — spend time with each of them to build rapport. Try working with them on a project or schedule a lunch and try to get to know them better.
- Find common ground. That way, you can have quick conversations on that common interest often.
- Once rapport is built, ask them to keep you in the loop or invite you to the next workplace event with the guys.
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