While most organisations now like to parade ‘diversity’ as one of their core values, many workers are still uncomfortable with ‘standing out’ and often have to alter their behaviour, habits, values to be liked and become a part of the team. Snéha Khilay argues such work environment is exclusionary.
Most of us acknowledge that our upbringing, education, experiences, religious backgrounds and beliefs provide us with perspectives that shape us. Our perspectives become our values – what is important and acceptable to us. In turn this affects our behaviour and how we interact with others. What about situations when you get caught up in what I call ‘Need to be liked’ syndrome and behave in a manner that causes you discomfort but nonetheless continue to do so, whilst losing sight of strongly held values/perspectives?
Amir works for a large, well known accountancy firm. His team culture is to unwind with drinks on a Friday evening, to catch-up informally on topical, work-related issues. Amir feels uncomfortable about going to the pub, because he doesn’t like to be in an environment that serves alcohol; it also means that he can’t attend mosque for Friday prayers. However, Amir feels that if he doesn’t go, he won’t get informal updates about organisational changes, potential promotion opportunities and so on. Amir believes that if he does not attend the Friday evening drinks, he will be kept out the loop and therefore, feel excluded by his colleagues and managers. So he continues to behave in a manner which is in conflict with his beliefs and values.
Although we live in a multicultural society and numerous large organisations wave the diversity banner with pride (and a degree of smugness?) parading, ‘We’ve got it right; Our staff have been trained; Our policies emphasise valuing diversity and Our (large) HR department promotes equality’, the ‘Need to be liked’ syndrome can still lurk uncomfortably in the organisations’ corridors. People fear that if they stray from the norms of their team, department or organisation, they will, however subtly, be criticised and/or excluded in some way. By failing to live up to these (perceived?) social norms and standards, the fear of ‘being excluded’ by others means that we sometimes behave in ways that do not align with our core values.
Some colleagues feel the need to base their work lives on the tacit acceptance of their colleagues. This may be someone gay who tolerates homophobic comments or an older colleague working in an office where ageist comments are the norm. The principles behind this thinking and behaviour is that it is important to be part of a group, have a sense of belonging, be included in the hub of information. This eventually drives people to look, behave and sound like everyone else even though this is at odds with who they feel themselves to be.
We are so accustomed to disguise ourselves to others, that in the end, we become disguised to ourselves. – François de La Rochefoucauld
And what about managers who observe other managers behaving in a manner that goes against their moral compass? One (junior) manager told me recently that he has noticed one of his senior partners sexually harass younger, female administrators. The junior manager, although uncomfortable, felt paralysed about saying anything about this to the senior partner in question. The junior manager was candid and told me his internal conflict was to the point of anguish as he wanted to maintain a good relationship and impression with the senior partner – to continue to be liked. As a result of not saying anything, he struggled with the fact that he was acting against his integrity and was not true to his beliefs and values. The junior manager was also aware of redundancies in the pipeline and, at this critical stage, did not want to risk jeopardising his job. He summed up his situation as “Being worried about being liked can be a lonely path, but trying to fit in and knowing in your heart that you don’t, is a long and gruesome road.”
We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin. – André Berthiaume, Contretemps
The need to be liked at work, and not to be seen as so different that the key decision makers will heave an exasperated sigh, can be an emotional drama causing distress or detachment. Those who are sensitive about being excluded can suffer if they are not part of every discussion, gathering, after-work drinks outing. Some may even get to the point that they hold their colleagues hostage for their hurt feelings. The need to be liked, albeit for the wrong reasons, needs to be balanced against the notion that ‘If you’re not there, your colleagues/managers may just cheerfully move onwards – and upwards – without you’. The fears – and repercussions – of being professionally excluded, can hurt and cause scars, which can take a long time to heal.
We hang on to our values, even if they seem at times tarnished and worn; even if, as a nation and in our own lives, we have betrayed them more often than we care to remember. What else is there to guide us? Those values are our inheritance, what makes us who we are as a people. And, although we recognise that they are subject to challenge, can be poked and prodded and debunked and turned inside out by intellectuals and cultural critics, they have proven to be both surprisingly durable and surprisingly constant across classes, and races, and faiths, and generations. We can make claims on their behalf, so long as we understand that our values must be tested against fact and experience, so long as we recall that they demand deeds and not just words. – Barack Obama
Snéha Khilay is a diversity and leadership consultant/trainer. Snéha carries out consultancy and training on Diversity and Inclusion, Managing Diversity and the Law, Cultural Competency, Dignity at Work and Conflict Resolution. Snéha has published articles on diversity and leadership in Management Today, Start Your Business, Simply Business, Professional Manager, Change Board, People and People Management. Visit Snéha’s website at www.bluetuliptraining.co.uk.