Today’s strong women know dealing with loneliness at work goes way beyond sitting alone at lunch.
You know you’re great at your job and work hard to treat other people fairly.
The difference between a leader and a manager is not lost on you. You’re proud of the fact that, more often than not, you’re the former.
You even know to choose happiness over everything else and let others figure out their own shit, for crying out loud.
Yet day after day you experience a kind of isolation that leaves you feeling cheated and misunderstood. Others
- disproportionately interrupt you
- undermine your authority,
- take credit for your ideas,
- misrepresent your healthy boundaries and
- leave you out of decision making conversations.
Even when you can see it’s an unconscious bad habit or an emotionally immature defense mechanism it doesn’t diminish the disheartening effects of their behavior. Your compassion toward their fallibility can even exacerbate the sense of loneliness. I mean…it sure would be nice to have that compassion reciprocated. The higher up the ladder you go the harder it gets to create a sense of belonging. Let alone one of camaraderie.
The underlying damage of dealing with loneliness at work is far worse than it appears on the surface. You not only wind up feeling unheard and unwanted, You spend far more time than your counterparts trying to explain yourself, justify your ideas and defend your expertise. How the hell are you supposed to have the bandwidth for creative solutions and overtime when you’re worn out just trying to be heard in a group that feels determined to silence you?
If you’ve tried, and failed, with the direct approach then you have a systemic problem in your corporate culture that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. That doesn’t mean all hope is lost, however. Here are a few techniques you can experiment with when dealing with loneliness at work that make no attempt to change anyone else. You’ll keep control right where you need it (on you) and plant the seeds for a new, more collaborative workplace.
Problem: It seems like no one likes you.
Solution: Redefine the role of their hurtful behavior.
This solution is all about changing your perception.
Life’s events are inherently meaningless. Therefore everything you experience is comprised of the event itself and the meaning you assign to the event. In the “no one is on my side” context this means the only reason you feel like you’re alone is because you’ve decided that others’ criticism is a sign they’re against you. What happens when you decide they’re for you, though? Regardless of their actual motivation YOU get decide that everything they do is meant to make you better and stronger at everything you do.
Is your immediate instinct to defend your perception that Samuel “The Closer” Washington takes great pleasure shutting you down in meetings? Consider this. Sammy Boy’s behavior is merely a reflection of his own insecurity. Or it’s a defense mechanism because his mom did it to him. Or he really is compensating for a small penis. There could be a million reasons he behaves like an asshole. You’ll never really know.
Since you never really know why someone behaves badly any reason you assign, even “he does it on purpose because he wants to see me fail,” is a random assignment of meaning. The only difference between your current random assignment of meaning (he’s an asshole intent on your destruction) and your new outlook (he provides the opportunity for me to get better at what I do) is the first one implies you’re a victim and the second gives you the chance to be a victor. The cool thing is, your first assumption doesn’t even have to be wrong for the second one to be right!!
It’s time to practice when you feel your own defenses rise up. If you feel personally attacked, the person is giving you an opportunity to move the conversation away from the personal and back toward your ideas. If you fee your ideas are attacked, you now get to dive deeper into the wisdom of your ideas and learn new ways to present them. Either way they’ve helped you become better at what you do. They’re on your team because you choose to use their behavior to your advantage.
Regardless of how big an asshole they are (or are trying to be) you make it all mean that they’re on your team. You become a better contributor and leader as a result.
Problem: Overlooked accomplishments.
Solution: Inject your confidence long before you need it as defense.
A client of mine was passed over for a promotion by someone far less qualified. Neither person applied for the position. Management automatically chose him because throughout the years he’d been touting his own accomplishments as if they were exceptional. They were, quite honestly, the bare bones basics of his job but that isn’t how he presented himself. My client, on the other hand, not only had seniority over him she had outperformed everyone in her department. She finished most projects with both money and time to spare. Her mistake is a common one: she assumed her results would speak for themselves.
Self promotion not only increases the likelihood of advancement it speaks volumes to the people on your team who also seek growth in the workplace. People naturally gravitate toward confidence and strength. At one point association with the strongest among us was literally about survival, so we can’t help but be drawn to people who know their shit.
Implement this tidbit strategically. Waltzing around the office, singing your own praises at every possible moment will not endear you to anyone that matters. Where there is context and appropriate opportunity, however, express your preferences and back it up with your experience. “Thank you for letting us know about the upcoming changes, Bob. I’m excited to see what’s coming down the pipe. Every time we go through these growing pains I get a chance to work closely with our employees and help them identify goals. I really enjoyed watching sales climb after studying and navigating our last slump.”
When dealing with loneliness at work you need a teammate. So be your own best teammate!
- Know your stats as they compare to others. When there is context to tout your wins, do so.
- Reframe your hardships and mishaps as lessons and talk about them as openly as you would any other kind of win.
- Let people know what kind of position you’d like in the company and how you’re uniquely qualified for it.
- Openly set goals. Publicly celebrate them when you meet them.
If scowls meet your enthusiasm instead of accolades, refer to the first Problem/Solution set and make those bastards your greatest advocates.
Problem: Your expertise is denied or undervalued.
Solution: Claim your expertise AND your continual growth.
Strong women, in particular, understand growth as a perpetual process. No matter how many years of experience you have as an expert in your field you may readily defer the title of expert with the claim that there is till so much to learn. Not to mention you’re pretty sure all that great stuff you did learn was common knowledge for everyone else for years before you got your grubby little hands on it. While it’s true there is always more to learn dismissing the large body of knowledge already acquired is a huge mistake.
Newsflash: You’re not the last to learn it.
Bigger newsflash: Having more to learn does not diminish the expertise you’ve established.
Declare your expertise, for fuck’s sake.
The tendency to believe that you’re the last to know or have the farthest to go makes you an easy target for the guy who believes he must make someone else look bad in order to look good.
Own the hard-won body of knowledge and wisdom you have, you’re an expert. Understand there’s more yet to learn, you’re a leader. Own both of those qualities and the people around you are more likely to show up to both learn from you and help you learn, too.
Problem: Overlooked or diminished input.
Solution: Recruit for “amplification.”
The term “amplification” was coined by female White House staffers. They learned to echo each other’s ideas when they were presented in groups. This was particularly important when in a room full of men with the habit of either dismissing or hijacking their input. With little judgment as to why the men behaved this way, they simply agreed to listen closely to one another. When the time came to “amplify” someone, they’d give credit where credit was due. Out loud. Often.
The women made a pact to reiterate, or “amplify” each others’ ideas. The moment they, in the course of general conversation, reminded people of the merits of “Rebecca’s idea,” or wanted to piggy back “Rebecca’s proposal” or were so grateful that “Rebecca” had a solution was the moment it all began to change. Not only did the credit put these women in a better position professionally, they always knew going into meetings that someone else had their back. Obama himself took notice and changed his own pattern, consciously asking for the contributions of the women in the group more often.
Your increased confidence, partnered with others’ third party validation, changes others’ perception of you at a deeper level of consciousness than they’re even aware of most of the time. When they see you as an equal they’re more likely to treat you like one, too.
Problem: There’s a culture of isolation in the business itself.
Solution: Become a mentor.
Some environments are habitually isolating as a factor of competition. Quite often one department silos information from another or individuals are incentivized over teams. There’s a reason people ask about a corporation’s culture in their interview! If you’re a collaborator and you find yourself in a dog-eat-dog environment, be the change you wish to see!
There is a myriad of advantages to mentoring. You learn as you teach, you create teams that trust each other or you groom someone you see with long-term potential for long-term benefit. A hidden benefit to mentoring is the trust and camaraderie you build into your work environment.
Yes, it’s another slow, “be the change you wish to see” kind of tactic and it’s a great way to practice your personal value of collaboration regardless of your outward circumstances. Read: just because they’re a bunch of self-serving nimrods doesn’t mean they get to turn you into one, too.
Problem: No one sits with you at lunch.
Solution: Create a routine you love. Then include others.
Even though it’s a symptom, not a cause, it is still nice to have someone to do stuff with!!
Coordinate activities that get the creative juices flowing and invite others. Mid-day walks, happy hour, Meetup, mastermind, parents’ group…whatever!
Start doing something that makes you feel good and invite others. Be prepared to grasp your pearls at who says, “yes!”
Dealing with loneliness at work takes a lot of effort…at first.
These solutions are about your change and growth, not forcing or expecting change from others. They take time and patience. Manhandling others into submission with your power or prowess may work for awhile but they’ll never get to the system root of the problem. The key is to lead with these two considerations: who you are and who you want to be. Don’t let any one else’s behavior rob you of the choice to be your absolute best.
Rewards do arrive over time with all of your front-loaded effort in the beginning of the process. At best, others will begin to follow suit. At worst, you’ll always know you stayed in control of your best self and led with integrity. Either way, the rewards to your confidence, your energy and your creativity will serve you long into the future.
It’s amazing how a few steps in a list can actually feel like a lot. Download The Squeeze right now to help you manage any anxiety that crops up. It’s my favorite go-to practice when I start spinning and my first recommendation for people who can’t shut their brains off at night. Lemme know what you think!
Triffany is a certified professional life coach who helps strong women tame their inner hot mess. Start with the book F.A.I.L.* to Win: 4 Simple Principles to Get You Out of Your Own Way and follow up with a class. Everything you touch will get easier as you go.