We’ve all felt it.
Even if there’s a place in our lives where we’re on the “inside” of the group, we’ve all experienced many more places where we’re on the outside looking in.
For me, I’m on the inside when I’m with a group of my coaching colleagues with whom I’ve interacted over the years. Sometimes, but not always, I feel that way when I’m around other entrepreneurs.
But more often than not, at least in my mind, I’m on the edges. It doesn’t matter if I know a healthy handful of people in the room or not. There’s just an overriding sensation that most everyone in the room knows each other except for me.
I found myself slightly triggered at a professional association event I attended as a guest recently. It was a lovely group of people; funny, smart, driven. And familiar. Many of these people had known each other for years, and it was an intimate enough group that it was fairly clear who was an insider and who wasn’t. Not that they made those distinctions; it was more in the way they joked together, called each other out, referred to past or future events. They acknowledged there were newbies in the room and made time for some very quick introductions, but that’s as far as the accommodation went.
As I spent time with the group, I noticed myself feeling a bit resistant. If something was supposed to be funny but I didn’t get the reference, I didn’t force myself to laugh. I focused on just talking to one or two new people during the networking time instead of trying to connect with more (which is actually fine in any circumstance). I let myself get a bit distracted by the sense of being on the edge of the people, instead of being immersed in the information.
I even started to wonder if this was a group I wanted to join. It felt a bit… cliquish.
So I felt it. I felt that outsider feeling, of being the only person not in on the joke. Did I really want to be part of a group that was cliquish?
The group wasn’t intentionally doing anything to make me feel unwelcome. They were being their natural selves, comfortable with each other and enjoying each others’ company. So if I felt any “me vs. them” energy, it was coming from my end.
Now, I also will admit that I wasn’t feeling particularly social that afternoon. A few friends I had been expecting to attend the event weren’t able to make it after all, so my mood shifted from anticipation to mild disappointment. It was a fairly long drive to get there, so some of my energy was expended from highway driving. I was taking in so much great content at the event that I didn’t have as much bandwidth for banter.
But those were all excuses, and I leaned into them. I made that choice. My energetic distance might have contributed to my perception that the group was cliquey.
I realized something later that day as I reflected on the meeting: it only felt cliquish because I was new. It seems a little too quick and convenient to slap the label “clique!” on the group, turn up my nose and walk away. Then I don’t have to do the hard work of getting to know them. I don’t have to make myself vulnerable to them.
And if I walked away, I might be cheating myself of some wonderful personal and professional growth opportunities.
Walking away is oh-so tempting. Without stepping back and asking myself, “what’s true?”, it’s easy to decide that they’re a clique, I don’t do cliques, so buh-bye.
I’m an introvert.
For me, that means I treat my energy like I treat currency… I want to save and spend it wisely.
I can feel shy or uncomfortable around people who seem bold or comfortable with each other.
If I don’t take the time to discern what’s me and what’s them, I can make inaccurate snap judgments.
I know that being on the “inside” takes effort and vulnerability, which takes time.
I trust that I can determine when it’s worth the time and effort, and when it’s not.
How do I determine if it’s worth it? By how safe I feel. Even if I’m uncomfortable, if I feel safe – I’m not being judged, discounted or condescended to – then it’s worth giving the situation and the group a chance. I still might determine it’s not a good fit, but at least that decision would be based on thoughtful discernment, rather than flashback-to-high-school-popularity-contest angst.
The next time you’re in a similar situation, ask yourself: what’s true? Are they really full of themselves and exclusionary, or am I just drawing a line between us because I’m not familiar with them, or they with me? Is there evidence that they enjoy the inside joke a bit too much, or is that a story I’m making up in my head? Even if I feel shy or hesitant, is it because I don’t feel safe, or because it’s all new?
Some groups are cliques, and there’s no way to sugarcoat it. But notice if your fear is assigning that label, or if it’s reality. When and if you decide to join in and become one of the group, take care to notice when there’s a newbie around. Remember how you felt when you first walked into the room. Remember how much courage that takes. There’s a certain level of risk involved. So reach out and give that person an especially warm welcome. Do what you can to dissolve some of the insider-outsider vibes that might be a barrier to entry.
After all, if we’re going to find out if we click, we have to get close enough to see, hear and feel the connection.
We’ll always have those times when we’re on the outside looking in. Take care to notice who’s deciding whether you’re in or out: them, or you?
When have you felt like an outsider? How did you handle it? Please share your experiences in the comments, so we can all learn from each other :-).
Ian Street says
Getting that feeling of safety is hard for me in most social situations :-/.
Karen Garverich says
I am an introvert due the pandemic zoom is being used for group activitieshowever the leaders i have found do not let each member talk making me feel left out does anyone out there feel the same way only CERTAIN PEOPLE Are talking the same every month
Excellent article and advice. Sometimes it’s only after the fact that I realize that I had made the decision to distance myself, and others would have been happy to see me. Still, the sometimes overwhelming visceral response to groups of people is what sends me away.
The Introvert Entrepreneur says
Ian, thanks for commenting. It can be challenging… I think part of the journey is being able to discern if the lack of safety is reality or perception. It’s not always easy to tell! If it’s the situation that’s not safe, we can let go thinking something’s wrong with *us* and lower expectations (easier said than done). If the situation is safe but we don’t *feel* safe, then it’s an opportunity to practice compassion with ourselves and maybe take a small risk with someone we *know* is safe. The entire topic deserves more than a FB reply, but know that even being aware of when you feel safe or unsafe is valuable. Information is power 🙂
Idara E. Bassey says
Thank you for sharing! Right on target for me…
Juli Hanstad Tubby says
Great post, definitely something to think about. I find it hard sometimes to overcome my flight instinct when dealing with large groups. But when I have stuck it out I have often had good experiences or at least I’ve been able to say, “I did it”, and learned something.
Bobby Crabtree says
yeah. shit happens 🙂
Tiffany Smith says
Funny this comes along today as this time last week I was bemoaning a remarkably similar situation for me. I felt very much the outsider. My description to my husband was that it felt like I had missed the how-to memo. Like everyone else in the room had information I wasn’t privy to and I as the last one standing without a chair. It was an all women group, and I routinely feel less competent in all female groups, but I was surprised how strong the feeling of exclusion was for me. I concluded that it was a combination of my stuff and perhaps a little bit of thoughtlessness on behalf of the group. Nothing sinister or deliberate. But I certainly did not feel safe and even a week later, it feels like something I would not choose to repeat.
Toya M. Gibson says
For me, its not about if I fit in or how to fit in. Its not about a struggle to get parallel respect in a group. ..I just simply have no interest. And something about the fact that its a group it makes it even more difficult to gain interest. Typically I find, zoom in and target one person just to say I was sociable. Nope, nothing is wrong with me, I just don’t have an interest, especially not in any groups.
Ian Street says
It’s like this video of penguins crossing a rope. Hesitant at first, but determined to be safe enough to proceed over, even if uncomfortable. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6ugxWsVH2Pk
Terrific article, and all so true. Though I do well in groups, I too sometimes find myself resenting the cliquishness of certain gatherings, as it triggers the envy of my young-introvert self, wanting acceptance even over quality. Stepping back and asking myself the equivalent of “what’s true?” ( a la Byron Katie) is always, always a good move. Thank you!
I can totally relate to this and I’m going to remind myself next time I’m in this situation that I’ve got to at least do my part before deciding it’s not worth my effort to connect. I know I am my own worst enemy when trying to meet new people in groups.
sonshinecottage Thanks for sharing – you’re setting yourself up for success with your reminder! We may often be our own worst enemy, but we’re also our own best friend… be compassionate with yourself :-).
@MaggieYes, you’re so right… Our need to be seen and heard is so powerful – even in introverts! Sometimes we forget that we bear some of the responsibility for others seeing and hearing us. It’s hard to remember when we’re triggered. Byron Katie did us all a huge service when she taught us how to apply
that very simple question that can snap everything into place. Thanks for sharing, Maggie!
a la carte spirit Isn’t that the truth! We forget that others might CARE. We get in the way of connection, sometimes consciously, other times unconsciously. And I’m with you on the overwhelm of groups – it takes a lot of self-management to stay centered and at choice in those situations. Thanks for your insights, Ilona!
Seems to me that there was a time when, at social gatherings or events, there was at least one host or hostess and it was considered “bad form” if she or he were to neglect guests and not even consider introductions. Today, with few exceptions, I just don’t find this – as though it has become some discarded relic when it comes to manners. Pretty dismal, in my mind. As shy as I may be, if I am out and find myself among friends who don’t know one another, I will make those introductions. If I’m particularly brilliant at the time [wink] I’ll toss in some common interests which I think these strangers might share… So, is this simply a sign of the times?
Well said, myssage. The lack of basic manners that has become increasingly common in the last several decades has had a snowball effect, adults who lack manners don’t teach children manners. Basic manners like the ones you describe are absolutely essential for healthy communities and societies, and they’ve been tossed aside in favor of feelings of superiority and cliquishness, which comes from both ends of the superiority/inferiority complex. There’s a reason that a person is not treated like they’re welcome and wanted into a new group, and that reason is usually insecurity and/or arrogance on the part of the hosts or the other group members, or both.
francis vijay says
Seems so true… But the reality IS scary, or atleast our perception towards the situation and people. As you said, the past experiences in childhood and adolescence pops up out of nowhere. This is one area I still struggle. Wish I was more objective! It is so tempting to retreat and run back to into one’s own comfort zone. -Francis Vijay
Jan Parker-Davidson says
Oh my goodness. Love that video. Reminds me of people building up confidence. And I’m the one who gets tangled and goes back!
I am so glad I found your site, I was beginning to think I was the only one. I actually googled ‘ introvert entrepreneur’ and found you! You’re dead right about the feeling safe thing. With an event or workshop or conference, we feel uncomfortable because we’re going ‘out there’ but not unsafe because there is nothing concrete about the people there to be logically afraid of. For me, I currently feel unsafe around a couple of people in my shared office building. I know logically it is only two of about one hundred people, and these two are out of six in my immediate circle, but it is enough to make me feel so uncomfortable I am barely there at the moment and I am missing out on so much opportunity. It’s not in my head, I’ve actually experienced direct bullying/abusive behaviours from them both, once in front of a visiting member of my staff, and it’s getting to the point where I can’t take it anymore. They’re not horrible all the time, but that makes it worse because I feel that by going in there I am constantly waiting for the axe to fall. And when they are together they are like a toxic partnership, bringing out the worst in each other. They also have good relationships with the others in our immediate circle, so politically I suppose I feel a bit more nervous around the others than I would otherwise now. They are domineering personalities, and seem to want to create ‘groupthink’ in our circle. I feel like I am in a weird warped co-dependent power relationship with them where I am required to conform to their expectations of me, or be ostracised, backstabbed and sent to Coventry. I really don’t want to leave our building, because it is a happening and up and coming place and would be great for me and my business, but I don’t know what to do about this situation. It’s hard enough for us introverted entrepreneurs to leave the house anyway and go out and network etc. (I 100% resonate with your comment about preserving energy!) but this is making it ten times harder for me. After being witness to them backstabbing, speculating and gossiping about other business owners (and their finances) that they know, and being on the receiving end of some aggressive behaviour myself, I feel like I am being watched, judged and talked about al of the time. I feel like I am being circled by two Dobermans, watching me quietly, and I am waiting for one or both of them to bite. Insane isn’t it! I will bookmark your site and visit often as I am so glad to find there are kindred spirits out there.
Having been in the room that I suspect you’re talking about, what I noticed is that appeared to be a room almost completely full of extroverts, too.
I left feeling sympathy for what intros must feel, because that much extroverted energy (which can be very “me me me!”) was intense, even for this extrovert!
I have SO been there! And to be honest, in the past I’ve quite happily given in to the desire to just say “these aren’t my people” and bail, never to return. But as you’ve said, that’s definitely a fear response, and choices based in fear are pretty much never good.
One thing that’s helped in situations like the one you described is to ask people about their history together – especially when there’s an obvious “insider joke” that I seem to be missing. Most people love to talk about themselves, so it’s a good way for me to get to know them better AND interact – without having to be the one talking. 😉
This is a very interesting topic and I can identify with most of the comments here. Being an introvert and entrepreneur is definitely not easy, especially when it comes to networking.
It becomes even more difficult if you are trying to network in a new country, where language barriers might prevent you from ‘getting’ certain things and social norms may be different.
My personal experience was that I consciously persevered to try and ‘fit in’ for a period of 20 months, going through various stages of feeling comfortable at the networking meetings, to reaching the stage of realizing that this was not for me.
I believe it is a waste of time and energy to try and act as someone you are not and engage in activities that you would never do by nature. I don’t say do not try to stretch yourself, all I say is that in the end, you may be better off, doing things in your own way, a way that feels comfortable for you.
In those 20 months, I did not make any real friends, I did not get any positive response to my invitations for 1 to 1 meetings and quite frankly did not get anything out of it professionally either.
Even though the group was otherwise very friendly, open, accommodating and welcoming to newcomers, most of them know each other from a long time and are friends, which inevitably and naturally creates ‘cliques’ and this is totally understandable. The question is what does a newcomer do when they do not share the same interests? Inevitably there is going to be awkward situations and a lack of ‘connection’.
Being an introvert, going to such meetings requires not only a significant ‘stretch’ and effort, but can also be extremely draining. If nothing comes out of all this, there comes a moment when suddenly one ask themselves the question: “What am I doing here?”, “What is in here for me of anything?” If the answers to these questions seem to be ‘nothing’, then one has to reassess their investment of time and energy into the whole thing and perhaps direct their efforts to other more suitable to them ways of networking, such as 1 to 1 meetings, social media and professional media such as LinkedIn etc.
You spend too much time worrying about “being on the inside.” Seriously, who cares? Go to an event for your own enjoyment. If people don’t seem to accept you or you’re not part of a “clique,” it’s not the end of the world.
Like you said, introvert energy must be saved and used wisely. Why waste it on stuff like this?
Beth Buelow says
Thanks for commenting, Jaiden. I personally spend zero time worrying about being on the inside. My point is that groups might not be conscious of how a cliquish atmosphere can be off-putting for a newbie (no matter how self-aware or enlightened that newbie is; we’re only human… we’re all looking for belonging). And to be aware, if you’re that newbie, of the dynamic and where you might be making up an “inside-outside” story that doesn’t need to be there.
I feel it should be a two way street. To me it becomes a clique in a more negative form if the group members use their familiarity and comfortableness to not make the genuine effort and interest toward newbies. Inclusion can lead to exclusion if not careful not many want to remember and revisit the uncomfortable feeling of newness to a group so clique together tightly what creates safety. Is this a real safety.
Your situation is much more related to when im out around new people. Thanks for opening my mind and giving me advice in the works of socialising!
i have always been excluded from every social group. as a kid, too fat. as an adult, too skinny. mostly at church, where the women all know each other and ive been there 10 years but apparently if you werent baptized there, you are an outsider. im so sick of it. i wish i could never go back.
Beth Buelow says
It sounds like you’ve had a challenging time, Sara. Without knowing more of your situation, I think I understand the church dynamic. It’s a place I have to feel like I belong; otherwise, I will find another place (if possible; I’ve done it many times). And it’s not always easy with something as personal as a church community. I hope you find the connection you’re seeking.