Ostracism at Work: How Do You Deal with Being Left Out?

Being along hurts, but there are ways to react appropriately
Ostracism is painful, but employees can cope with it in different ways. Learn how to best cope with ostracism here!

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As we have discussed before, it’s not uncommon for employees to ostracize each other at work. In fact, the majority of people will experience ostracism from their colleagues at some point. Research has shown that 66% of employees have been given the silent treatment, while 45% are left out of meetings. Further, 28% feel people intentionally leave the room when they enter.

While these behaviors are subtle, they can do some damage. Targets of ostracism are often unsure about their standing. So, when people leave you out or ignore you, it can actually be more painful than being directly harassed. In other words, constantly wondering why you’re being left out is more upsetting than just knowing someone dislikes you and moving on. So, when people ostracize you, you are likely to want to make it stop! But that might mean acting in ways that might not serve you in the long term. Read more to see if you are coping with ostracism in a healthy or unhealthy way!

Withdrawing After Experiencing Ostracism

One of the most common reactions to experiencing ostracism is just removing yourself from the situation. Research shows that ostracism makes you feel like you don’t belong. This can make you withdraw from others, by being absent or late more frequently. It can also make you more psychologically distant, causing you to refrain from socializing or sharing with others. Belongingness is a core human motivation. So, when you feel you don’t belong, it can sometimes feel easier to just find another place in which you do.

But, when you remove yourself from situations, you might miss out on opportunities to forge other relationships. Further, if you’re not present at work to perform your duties properly, you might forego rewards or promotions. Finally, you might find your work less engaging, since you are not socially integrated into your workplace. So, if employees are ostracizing you and you’ve decided to withdraw, weigh the pros and cons. If possible, try to find a role in a different work group or find a new job altogether. Are there others on the job who you might have a better connection with? You may not be able to make everyone at work include you, but resigning to ostracism isn’t always a good option in the long-term.

It might feel better to just resign to being alone when you’re ostracized. But, you might miss out on other relationships or opportunities!

Retaliating Against Ostracizers

Another common reaction to experiencing ostracism is to try to “get even” with those who left you out. When colleagues hurt each other, it can prompt an aggressive response. This is because experiencing ostracism can lead people to feel frustrated and angered. When employees feel thwarted and upset at work, they can take it out in a deviant way. This can involve saying rude or hurtful things to ostracizers. It might also mean sabotaging someone else’s work or damaging their physical property.

However, as you might imagine, getting back at those who have ostracized you can also have negative consequences. If you are known for being rude or destructive, it might impact your standing with supervisors. Plus, if leaders are not aware that you are reacting to others’ negative behaviors, it might seem as if you are provoking them. While it might feel good to get back at others, this behavior is not likely to benefit your career over time.

It might feel nice to get revenge on those who have ostracized you. But, these behaviors can cause damage to your reputation over time!

Helping Your Way Back Into Their Hearts

Finally, you might try to “win over” those who left you out – another common response to ostracism. When being accepted by others is important you, you might try to help those who harmed you. In other words, when you value colleagues who are ostracizing you, you might decide that doing good deeds is best. This is even more true when you have been around for a while and have an established reputation. You want others to see that you are valuable because you know you’re good at your job.

Helping those who ostracize you might seem like a good strategy. Those who are more future-oriented are more likely to take this approach, in fact. This is because they are able to see that the short-term satisfaction of getting even or withdrawing have long-term drawbacks. But, helping others might be exhausting over time. If you keep helping those who leave you out, you might end up doing a lot of extra work that you don’t get rewarded for. Plus, there is no guarantee that this strategy will work, which could be disappointing. So, while helping is the best strategy of the three reviewed here, you still need to think about it. Will helping the people who harmed you become overwhelming? Are others taking advantage of you?

Overall, having a proactive conversation with those who are ostracizing you might be tough. But, in light of these options, it may be the best way forward. Have others ever ostracized you at work? What did you do to combat it? Did it work? We would love to hear more from you below!

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