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Are You Being Excluded by Difficult People in the Workplace?

Sometimes bullying in the workplace takes an obvious form. Think of the person singled out for criticism every time. Or the employee who is expected to stay after work without compensation again and again. But look at what happened to Pam when she was the target of a more subtle workplace bullying: being excluded at work.

Pam works in the headquarters of a large insurance agency. As an assistant to a vice president, she is expected to know what is going on in various parts of the company. Often she attends meetings in her boss’s place and reports on the meetings to her boss. She is clearly an important link in the chain of command. Or at least she was. Recently she has begun to question her position. Where information flowed through her, it now seems more and more to flow around her. She is often the only one who hasn’t heard about a meeting, even one her boss expects her to attend. When her boss asks her questions about the meeting, she looks foolish because she wasn’t there. At other times, people have failed to tell her an important piece of information that her boss needs.

She feels uncomfortable about telling her boss that she “didn’t know about the meeting,” which sounds like a weak excuse. Where she had felt secure and confident about her job, she now feels uncertain and confused. She had always prided herself on being a person “able to handle things,” even difficult people in the workplace. Now she feels her self confidence slowly beginning to slip away.

Excluding the target is a common workplace bullying tactic. These are examples:

• Everyone receives an email telling them to attend a meeting. Everyone except you, that is.
• You receive notice about where or when to meet. You show up at the appointment time, only to find out that you were sent the wrong information.
• Your team is invited to lunch, a birthday celebration, an end-of-week get together or another event. You do not receive an invitation.
• An important project comes into the office. Your team is assigned to handle it, and you are expected to offer input. But you are not informed about the project or the meetings. When it comes time for the team to report on its results, who looks foolish?

Perhaps the most difficult part of being excluded at work is that it’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the behavior or know who to confront. Exclusion is often an act of omission rather than commission, that is, instead of doing something to the target, the difficult person at work doesn’t do something, which makes the target feel confused and off-center. If you’re not told about a meeting or a get together, maybe it was just an oversight. Or maybe you didn’t receive the email. While you try to figure out what is wrong, your confidence ebbs, increasing your feelings of exclusion and isolation.

But, deep inside you know better and suspect that you are being excluded. Here are a few things you can do to deal with difficult people in the workplace:

1. Give the benefit of the doubt in your communication, but be very direct in your request. For example, say, “I am not too sure, but wasn’t the meeting supposed to be at 10:00? I had it noted as 10:00 a.m., yet everyone was in the meeting before I arrived. Any thoughts…?”

2. If the bully responds with something like: “I emailed you and you should have known.” Then make a request: “Oh, I see. Would you mind forwarding the email to me again? I didn’t see my name on there.”

3. If the bully still skirts the issue, addressing the behavior directly at least lets the bully know you know what she is doing. Now you can try being more direct: “I appear to be left out and excluded from information I need to do my job. What I need is: (then list). Will you do this, yes or no?” (Then wait for a response.)

4. Lastly, if the bully persists in excluding you, who else on the inside can you rely on to help you gain access to what you need?

5. Bonus tip: Show the bully this email article. Let her know you are onto her, and exclusion is a form of bully behaviour. Ask her to start including you on information you need.

Valerie Cade, Founder
Bully Free at Work