- Outsiders look different
- Outsiders sound different
- Outsiders act different
- Outsiders feel different
- Outsiders are made to feel different
As we explore each of these traits, see if you can identify yourself as a workplace Outsider:
1. Outsiders look different
An outsider’s appearance can engender racist, ageist, sexist, homophobic, or simply derogatory responses. Looking different than your workplace peers is perhaps one of the most common outsider characteristics.
Our ethnicity often makes us feel different. As discussed earlier, I worked in Japan for four years and for the first time in my life I felt different because of my race. Within the company people were polite and didn’t mention my obvious differences to my face, but behind my back they gossiped.
They talked about how tall I was, marveled about my big nose, and even wondered about my hazel eye color. People greeted me by saying “takai” which I eventually realized wasn’t another way of saying “hi” but translated as “tall” or “wow, he’s a giant — get a load of that foreigner.” Instead of having my career based on my work product, my bosses focused first on how I looked different. And the ironic thing was that my key job qualification was being foreign….
2. Outsiders sound different
How you sound to others can also cause co-workers and colleagues to treat you like an outsider. If you have a regional or foreign accent, an unusual speaking style, or if you speak softly or loudly, others may brand you as remarkably odd. A woman with whom I worked had a strong foreign accent and was often passed over for opportunities to represent the company at conferences or seminars. She was a well-qualified, articulate expert but never landed those jobs because of her accent.
Peculiar speech patterns can brand one an outsider as well. For example, the popular TV show, Seinfeld, featured an episode about “low-talkers” — people who speak softly. A woman Jerry Seinfeld was dating was ridiculed as an outsider, when her crime was simply not talking loudly enough for Jerry to hear her over the clinking glasses in a New York City restaurant. In telephone sales, where your voice is your main tool there is no room for anyone like Jerry’s would-be girlfriend who does not speak out loud and clear. Low-talkers learn to speak up, or must find a niche where low talking is acceptable or, better still, appreciated…
3. Outsiders act different
There are a range of behaviors that can make you stand out in a less than positive way in the eyes of your workplace colleagues. It may be that you prefer to bring your lunch rather than join the dine-out crowd. Or maybe you keep a framed photo on your desk of you and your same-sex partner in a loving embrace. Or perhaps you believe that taking the bus to work is an important choice for the environment when none of your peers ever venture onto public transportation. A friend of mine fits this latter category. Not only did her co-workers look on her as an outsider for not owning a car, they resented having to occasionally drive her to meetings outside the office. She was thought of as an environmentally conscious inconvenience—and an outsider.
4. Outsiders feel different
Even though on the surface you might look and act just like everyone else at work, inside you may feel like a outsider. Your worldview or lifestyle may be different. If you were brought up in another country, or raised in a different tradition, you may feel that you don’t fit in culturally. A coaching client who was Jewish felt like the odd woman out when prayers were said at the beginning of business. And some clients feel different for less obvious reasons — they simply sense that they aren’t on the same wavelength as their workplace peers.
A friend of mine whose father was a union leader struggled with outsider feelings when he worked for a traditional corporation that focused solely on the bottom line without regard to worker welfare.
5. Outsiders are made to feel different
Too often, co-workers and bosses draw attention to whatever it is that makes the outsider stand out. A sales executive who is also a talented painter found this out to her dismay. She mentioned to her boss that her work was being exhibited in a local gallery and rather than congratulate her, he ridiculed her in front of co-workers as “our little wannabe Picasso.” After that, instead of being taken seriously as a high-performing sales exec, this talented outsider was treated as an amateur dabbler and a joke.
Bosses may also make you feel like an outsider for being associated with a corporation that is no longer in power. For example, after a corporate merger, a manager may make a point of talking about which employees come from the “winning company” and which don’t. In front of others, they might sarcastically ask you, “So, why not enlighten us about how you processed orders with that old company before we took it over?”
Edited except from Outsiders On The Inside: Creating A Winning Career Even When You Don’t Fit In. Reproduced with Permission by Career Press and David Couper, August 2010
Photo reproduced from Flickr by SnapsCharlie