That Awkward Moment When You're an Outsider at Work

BY Courtney Huckabay
Featured image for “That Awkward Moment When You're an Outsider at Work”

Ugh. Sometimes work feels like high school — or even worse — junior high. You could not pay me to relive middle school. But sometimes it feels like we are indeed getting paid to work in the school cafeteria, or in the gym before school/​work starts. Sorry if I'm inflicting flashbacks. Completely unintentional. Alas, we are all adults now and can rise above these feelings of awkwardness, neglect, exclusion, and all-​around, general cliqueyness. No one wants to feel like an outsider at work.

We spend much of our days at work, so it truly is important to feel welcome and make others feel welcome. You might be faced with the Cool Kids group, or you're dealing with The Jocks, or (real talk here) you're the oldest one in your office and totally out of the loop on what the youths are talking about anyway. You might be thinking it's fine to just buckle down, do your work and remain The Loner, the outsider at work. But research reveals otherwise.

Emily Moore tells us experts agree that feelings of comfort and acceptance in the workplace are far from trivial, in her blog post for glassdoor.

Most people will work an average of 65,000 hours in their lifetime. Being in a positive environment is a key [to] being happy and having a healthy outlook,” Leadership Coach Anza Goodbar says. “If you are unhappy in the job, you will be less likely to perform well and it will reduce the likelihood of keeping the job long term.”

It's not just your emotional well-​being that's at stake by not addressing how you fit in at your job. Joseph Liu, career consultant and host of the Career Relaunch podcast, reminds us all that, “Fitting in is part of being able to effectively lead teams to achieve your organizational goals.” Fitting in is crucial to your job and to your long-​term career goals, so being the outsider at work is problematic.

So, what should you do to not be the outsider at work? Here are three strategies Moore offers in her piece.

1. Identify Whether Your Problem is Internal or External

You must be self aware. You have to look yourself in the mirror and take accountability of allowing yourself to become the outsider at work. Enough said.

2. Figure Out What’s Working (and What’s Not)

Leadership Coach Marian Thier recommends one activity in particular. “When clients say they just don’t mesh with their co-​workers, I first ask them to draw five concentric circles and put the names of everyone they deal with on at least a weekly basis. Then they draw an arrow to indicate how information flows between the client and the other person,” Thier says. “Finally they color the arrows red for difficult relationships and green for smooth ones.” Thier recommends thinking about what is working. “Assess how the green relationship is working, what to continue to do consciously and consistently, what to do more/​less of and how to be self-​observant. Once the ‘right-​fit’ relationships blossom, it is common for the reds to minimize or not to be necessary,” Thier explains. “The idea is to strengthen solid relationships, which will gradually either create a sense of belonging or make it clear that it just isn’t the place to be.”

3. Come Out of Your Shell

"Another possible explanation for your discomfort at work could be simply that you’re not putting yourself out there enough," Moore writes. Oh yeah, she said it. You're just plain not making any effort to not be the outsider at work. You never take your lunch in the break room. You never leave your chair to make eye contact or even smile at another living soul. Don't be that guy.

Try to find something, anything in common with your co-​workers. Ask them to lunch. Go sit next to them during lunch. Get coffee or tea in the break area (when other people are definitely in there) at least once a week. Wedge yourself into the conversation to make sure you're not the outsider at work.

Once again you must look inward, find The Force within you, and do something that makes you uncomfortable. Set your social anxiety aside. Or heck, try bringing up this situation in a conversation! Break the ice with a joke about how awkward you feel and how your anxiety is a struggle. I have bonded with countless people (often the least expected) over quirks, traits of anxiety and idiosyncrasies. You just might surprise yourself, and others!

Moore provides three more actions to take in her post. Check them out if you've tried the first three already and you still feel like an outsider.