I work in a three- person office and wouldn’t you know it, I’m the third wheel. I’m a few years older than the other two women and while I’ve been there the longest, I’m a subordinate of one of them. Their obvious friendship makes me feel as if I’m being passed over for great assignments in favor of the other woman. I’m not sure, though, that feeling left out might not be at the root of my discontent. They talk and laugh and go out to lunch together which leaves me out of the loop. I feel I’m in a no-win situation and I’m getting angrier and more withdrawn, which I know doesn’t help. How should I handle this?
Signed, Odd Woman Out
There’s nothing like feeling left out to bring back the awful memories of youth. Not being the teacher’s favorite, not getting invited to birthday parties, being picked last for those mandatory team sports. All of our insecurities come to the forefront when situations like this confront us and it takes a great deal of thought and objective self-appraisal to tease out the real issues from the old, youthful ones.
The difficulty here is that while office friendships are so commonplace as to be almost passé, what your boss is doing is both unprofessional and unkind. I’m surprised at the lack of professionalism but, sadly, I’ve seen this time and time again. An employer or supervisor’s job is to treat each employee fairly and equitably. It’s probably unavoidable to have favorites or to have those who might try your patience, but it’s a reflection on a supervisor’s proficiency and management skills when an employee fails or succeeds. Perhaps as importantly, if you’re in a position of authority, it leaves you open—deservedly or not—for complaints of favoritism or discrimination.
Unfortunately, we’ve all had less-than-perfect bosses, so when faced with this problem there are several steps to take. The first is to stop acting on your hurt feelings while you deal with the very real issues facing you. Becoming angry and withdrawn is completely understandable but counterproductive and gives them ammunition to justify your exclusion. Ever hear of that quote from Creighton Abrams? “Never get into a fight with a pig. You both get dirty and he enjoys it.” Part of your unhappiness might arise from a feeling that you’re behaving in a way you’re less than comfortable about. Don’t sink to the unprofessional level of your co-worker and boss and you’ll have the blessing of knowing you’re not contributing to the unpleasant situation.
That being said, you may be unconsciously adding to the difficulty of your workplace and here’s where the honest self-appraisal comes into play. Ask yourself some hard questions. Are you open and friendly at work, or consistently quiet and withdrawn, unsmiling and uncommunicative? We’re frequently unaware of how we come across to others and while you may feel otherwise, your body language, tone of voice, or actions might be causing others to avoid you in some way. Do you feel left out or misunderstood in other situations, such as in family or social settings, or only at work? Perhaps you could ask a trusted, loving friend or family member to be very frank in giving you feedback about your demeanor. Watch yourself in a mirror while trying to be as natural as possible. One of the friendliest, most outgoing men I know has a face that in repose looks rather intimidating and unapproachable. He knows this and so he makes the extra effort to smile and extend warmth to others without waiting for them to make the first move. If this is something that never happens to you and your work situation is the exception, okay, but if it feels familiar, you may need to work on how you appear and respond to others in order to make changes reflecting the real you.
You mention two primary concerns in your letter. One is the question of being discriminated against when it comes to assignments. This is a serious charge and, if true, one you need to act on. Before you do, however, make sure that you have an accurate view of the situation. Are these assignments you have the skill and expertise to take charge of, or is it possible your co-worker possessed better skills and knowledge? Look objectively at whether your own professionalism and set of work skills are up-to-date and polished. You don’t mention your occupation, but make sure you take the classes, training and courses necessary to stay abreast of your job requirements. Don’t overlook communications skills, because whether it’s in one’s personal relationships or work environment, learning how to relate to others is vital.
Your other concern was the question of your motivation in feeling you were discriminated against. In other words, you’re not sure you’re treated unfairly or if your feelings of being left out have given you to feel slighted. This is an honest question and one you should feel proud of being self-aware enough to ask. We’re each human, vulnerable, and social beings. Logic aside, it hurts to feel someone else is more appealing and somehow more deserving of positive attention. When emotions get involved, it becomes very difficult to decipher what’s true and what’s merely a reflection of our feelings. To discover what’s at the core of your work unhappiness is to ask yourself some simple questions.
For instance, does their happy chatter interfere with your concentration or just make you feel jealous? I’m wondering if you’d even want or care to be part of their twosome if it wasn’t for the discomfort of feeling an outsider. I’ve worked in situations in which two or more individuals had so much in common that they clearly socialized outside of work and often referred to their escapades during the day. I never felt insulted, however, because the truth was that while they were lovely people, I had little in common with them and had no desire to be included.
If you search your heart and mind and decide that you’re truly being treated in a discriminatory way, then having done all this preparatory work will benefit you in the next step, which is to discuss your concerns with your supervisor. Make sure you narrow the focus of the issues you want to address so you can be objective and concise. Detail what it is you want clarified and changed. If you feel as if you’re being passed over for projects, bring it up in a way that indicates you want to understand why it’s happening so you can improve. Perhaps you could say, “I noticed the last two important projects went to Amy. I’d love to be part of that kind of work and am wondering if you could instruct me on how to be included in similar projects.” Approaching it in this manner lets her know that you’re willing to work on improving your skills as well as conveying your awareness of a pattern of favoritism.
Feeling hurt about being left out of their friendship is less easy to address. You can’t force people to like you or to include you in their lives. It would be easier and more professional if they’d be discrete about their friendship, but that clearly isn’t the case here. If you can’t ignore their personal discussions, you might smile and say, “Your lunch-time experience with the waiter sounds hilarious; hearing about it is so engaging it’s making it hard for me to concentrate on my work!” Sometimes a small comment can clue people in on their lack of sensitivity.
My father died ten years ago. He was a quiet man and rarely talked but I’ve consistently had wonderful dreams in which he’s come to me chatty and radiating warmth and happiness. Am I making this up or can he have changed so much?
My guides tell me that when we die we don’t suddenly sprout angel wings and possess all the knowledge of the Universe. Five minutes after we die we’re still the same personality we were five minutes prior. We continue our path of learning and loving when we’re in the spirit realm. For instance, if we were hurt and fearful, withdrawn and self-protective while alive, in the spirit realm we’re eventually able to let that go and see why we underwent the experiences we did. With that in mind, no doubt your father has gained the understanding and joy in the spiritual realm that he lacked while he was in his physical body.
This is a lengthy topic, but when we move into the spiritual realm two important events happen; we undergo a life review and we’re cleansed of all the hurts and pains of our recent incarnation. When this happens, we see the omissions of love and tenderness we caused and experienced. Your dad may very well desire to communicate his love to you through your dreams in a way he was unable to do while he was alive. Enjoy the warmth and love of your father and pray for his continued evolution and joy.