separated_from_group_400_clr_9554I was an overweight, shy, only-child who moved every other year. I attended 11 schools from K through 12; tough to build friendships.  In college, I made a very deliberate decision to change who I was, I lost weight, found a sorority with like-minded sisters, and learned social skills I’d not learned before. I then was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the U. S. Marine Corps, and left that sad child behind. I don’t get intimidated often, but when I do, it is usually the “mean girls” from high school that flip my trigger.

What do I mean by “mean girls?” Well, hopefully the Rachel McAdams stereotype has grown up to be less overt, and more caring. Honestly, if she didn’t I think she will struggle in today’s workforce.

But there is still a behavior of women that triggers in me an instant urge to run away, and it happens when a group women behave as if they are a clique.  When an outsider enters the perimeter, they let the outsider in, but their body language speaks volumes.

Typically these women have worked together enough to know each other pretty well, and be very comfortable that they think alike.  When the outsider speaks, the members of the clique all look at each other to see if what the outsider said was acceptable.  There is usually silence until someone speaks up and explains, for the group, why they do what they do and why change isn’t in the cards.

And they move on while the outsider decides whether to continue with their thought, or be quiet.

They don’t even realize that they have just shut down diversity, and from diversity comes innovation and contemporary thinking.

It seems to me to be a passive-aggressive behavior – it is passive resistance to anyone outside the clique even though they openly claim to embrace new members.

I don’t see this too often, thankfully. I did walk into a hornet’s nest of “Cliques-R-Us” in my last organization, and will forever recognize the signs of wandering eye contact. When the outsider talks, the insiders all look at each other, creating an immediate discomfort for the outsider that she said something wrong. I hope that was an unusual, over-the-top situation, and I am very grateful to not be there anymore.  Until that experience, I believed that the “mean girl” syndrome stayed in high school.

But every so often, I will wander into a group of women and feel immediately like an outsider. Why?

They spend a lot of time talking about their shared past. They jabber together until someone else speaks up, and then there is silence. They are not open to ideas that are different. Even if it is a professional group, the personal, shared stories and jokes are exchanged so easily that creates an intimacy that says, “You are new and different; we are comfortable with who we are.”

I have quite a bit more confidence today than I did when in high school, and so I will typically provoke new ideas and throw out concepts, but after so many attempts, I just stop and move on.

My question is this: how much do we miss when we don’t encourage outsiders to be part of the team and the process?

5 thoughts on “Cliques-R-Us

  1. Pingback: Cliques-R-Us «
  2. The “clique” is very much alive and well in organizations and associations. It’s too bad, because like you, I believe the “clique” is missing out on good ideas. So, how do we get folks to be more open to other people and ideas?

  3. Good question, Emily. Like everything else in organizations, I think it boils down to leadership. If leadership encourages inclusivity, and helps their teams recognize the power of differences, it at least might help. Thanks for your comment.

  4. Carol,
    I recently went back to Peter Block’s Flawless Consulting because I needed a refresher on getting ideas through internally and externally. However I think it was more or less breaking through the cliques as you mentioned. Great article and I’ll remember it the next time I step into one of these cliques.

  5. Hi Kinha – thanks for the comment. The last time I encountered this, I seriously thought about calling it to their attention, but then I just didn’t feel like that particular issue was worth it. Glad you’re still reading Block!

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