Dedicated to all the people who strive to go from outcast to outstanding in the workplace. #SkillsGap
“18.1% of American adults suffer from a clinical anxiety disorder, with social anxieties making up the majority” – National Institute of Mental Health
I just finished watching the entire first season of the show Mr. Robot (insert standing applause to Netflix for making this happen) and I can say without any hesitation this is one of the most captivating and dynamic shows on network television to date. Sure, it’s no Game Of Thrones, House of Cards or any other popular show on or offline, but what it lacks in those areas, it rightfully makes up for it in so many others.
Admittedly, I began watching this show because there was nothing else on to watch. The moment I saw it was set and filmed in my hometown of New York City I was slowly hooked. Location however is merely a small piece of a larger pie when it comes to captivating and holding my attention. The acting is raw, real and unrivaled to anything else I have seen on that network. For someone who knows little about “hacking” (per the shows description) I was cautiously optimistic. What I quickly discovered was that the show dives directly into the belly of the beast and in this case that beast is a character named Elliot. A young, anti-social computer programmer who works as a cybersecurity engineer during the day, but at night he is a vigilante hacker.
In the show, Elliot’s social anxiety disorder coupled with his awkward and aloof behavior keeps people (and himself) on edge and somewhat uncomfortable. This struck a cord with me as Learning and Development Professional whose spent a considerable amount of time working with companies and supporting them in defining their culture and identify both the behaviors and competencies that would make that company thrive while engaging their people to be happy, appreciated and successful. In reality, it’s quite easy to show up as an Elliot in our day job especially if we are aren’t aware how we see ourselves and how others perceive us. According to the book “Awkwardness” from Professor Kotsko:
“There’s a tendency to define awkwardness as though it’s something inherent in a person, like people are born awkward somehow, but I think it’s a matter of a social situation that just doesn’t work”
Whether you call it awkward or outcast, ones environment will play a critical role regarding their comfortability in the workplace. If you aren’t comfortable it will decidedly impact others perception of you and not in the best light. The importance of being liked and accepted has always been critical when looking to forge a successful and long career. Here are 11 signs you may be putting your workplace reputation in jeopardy:
- You are frequently being avoided or ridiculed by others.
If others actively try to dodge interactions with you, or worse – they outright mock you during them, they probably see you as an outcast or outsider in the group. And if they see you this way, it can be a sign that your social behavior is awkward and makes you an easy target of others.
- You’re always late.
Showing up late is not only a quick career killer but also a critical skill one must develop if they want to work with others and be part of company. A weak relationship to your time management will have a ripple effect both on your performance and how others choose or not choose to partner with you. Habitually poor time management will make your boss see you as lazy, disrespectful and a risk to both their team and the office culture.
- You feel nervous in social settings.
The typical socially awkward person usually doesn’t feel comfortable in social situations. They can be produce a fair amount of anxiety leading to a temporary shutdown. In the show Elliot openly expresses this point. This is one of the main factors that often make certain people behave in weird ways around other people. Nervousness leads to a creepy demeanor, and realizing that your demeanor is creepy creates even more nervousness, which perpetuates a downward cycle.
- You make a lot of excuses.
People will take notice when your excuses for why you can’t do something outnumbers the times you successfully can. There is a famous quote, “excuses are the nails used to build a house of failure” – and sadly this is true.
- You lack the social norms.
Not understanding the company culture for which you work is red flag. If you don’t know how work gets done then you can’t expect to know to play the game. People who suffer from this often don’t know what’s appropriate for them to do/say and what’s not in a social situation. They don’t know how to start a conversation and what’s appropriate to discuss in the workplace. This can lead to more introversion and this lack of understanding can lead to either weird or shy behavior.
- You are resistant to authority.
Nobody likes arrogance especially in their boss but should you find yourself (or your inner voice) displaying some level of dissatisfaction with being told what to do, then I invite you to assume this could also be a red flag. No matter how hard we “try” to mask our inner conversations or beliefs, they have an unscrupulous way or rising to the surface and people will undoubtedly pick up on it leaving others avoiding you and you isolated.
- You often having a different impact than intended.
It’s common for socially awkward people to joke about something and others to find the joke uncalled for, or to try and give a compliment, only for it to come off in a distasteful way. Although their intention was good and an attempt to be a part of the group/culture was made — it ends up generating a totally different one. This mismatch is a sign of a deficiency of social calibration.
- You lack conversation flow.
Everybody has conversations that don’t flow, awkward silences or conversations that end abruptly. But for socially awkward people, this is the rule, not the exception. Their conversations are habitually bumpy like a turbulence on airplane.
- You lack meaningful connections with others.
Since there is a struggle with making conversation, feeling at ease around others and expressing oneself effectively typically leads to a lack of strong connections with others. They generally have few friends, if any, and a very small social circle while spending a lot of time alone.
- You don’t believe in your company’s mission or values.
If you’re regularly making snarky remarks about what your employer stands for or the work you do, your colleagues will likely have a hard time trusting your judgment on decisions and as result leaving you on the outside looking in. Showing a lack of passion or belief in your employer is not only another red flag but a surefire way to isolate yourself from others who care about what they do, where they do it and why they chose to work there.
- Your colleagues clearly don’t enjoy working with you.
This may seem redundant but it’s different than anything I already mentioned and here is why. Sometimes working with your coworkers is unavoidable and being on a team or partnered with someone is what’s needed. If it seems like your coworkers aren’t making eye contact with you or are uncomfortable when working with you on a project, it could be because they are afraid or just uncomfortable around you. Read any of the previous signs to better understand this further.
The good news is that being labeled the office outcast isn’t a death sentence and suffering from social awkwardness can be overcome, no matter who you are. Becoming a more socially calibrated person who can mesh within their workplace and engage their coworkers is possible. However, the path to obtaining that place differs per person and situation. As a broad general rule of thumb, the key is to first determine if you actually suffer from any of the behaviors I’ve listed above. Secondly, if you feel it’s warranted – seek the best advice available and implement it.
Being an outcast anywhere in life especially where you spend 75% of your week isn’t fun and can beat you up emotionally and mentally. The good news, is that there are some steps you can take immediately to improve your situation:
- Work on developing your social confidence. Social settings are a key trigger to producing shyness and anxiety and when you are feeling this way, you can’t think straight, you stumble, bumble and fumble around, and thus you embarrass yourself. Consider starting small by striking up a simple conversation with a coworker about the weather, sports or something newsworthy that’s happening within the broader company. Another important action you can take is to smile more and remember to make better eye contact with others. There is enough research on eye contact to make this worth your time and effort.
- Study the social norms of your workplace. True the basic principles of social interactions can be learned from books, courses or socially savvy people but they can also be understood by simply observing the people you work with. Of course the key is to do this in a non-creepy way but the best place to understand how outgoing and potentially successfully people operate in your workplace is to study these exact people. Applying these learnings will aid you in adjusting your social behavior to a workplace situation.
- Figure out where your comfort zone ends and then step forward. I realize this may sound easier in word than in action, as well it’s entirely subjective per person but the act of taking one action no matter how small (outside your comfort zone) will begin to make a difference. In time, you could transform both your confidence and perception from outcast to outstanding.
For everyone else including people leaders and managers:
- Focus on creating a happy, safe and comfortable work environment. By encouraging collaboration, you can create a work environment that helps a quiet co-worker come out their shell, at least professionally. Go out of your way to include the individual during meetings or group discussions. Socially, you can break the ice by inviting this person to lunch or coffee.
- Strive to be understanding and accepting. While the behaviors I have listed here may strike you and your colleagues as odd, keep in mind that it may have been professionally and socially acceptable at the individual’s previous job. In fact, from a company culture perspective – their behavior may have been the norm at their last employer. The person could also be from another state or country. Keep an open mind and heart.
- Avoid gossip or bullying (at all costs). Your first instinct may be to mock this type of person either in a group or on some form of social media but I assure you that makes you no better of a human being and will undoubtedly make the situation worse for that individual and potentially yourself and your own reputation.
The floor is yours, what do you say on this topic?
Not-your-typical Personal and Executive Master Certified Coach.
Joshua Miller is a creative and impactful leader. His career experience has spanned both the advertising world and the world of leadership and organizational development. To Learn more, visit my site: www.JoshHMiller.com
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