What to do when colleagues dismiss and ignore you

When starting in a new role it can sometimes be hard to fit in to the existing culture and team dynamic. Even more so in this day and age, if your workplace has moved to flexible working arrangements and neither you, nor your colleagues are associating or conversing on a daily basis.

But if you’re finding that your co-workers are not acknowledging you or providing assistance when asking for help, it can make for a really challenging initiation. This can quickly diminish the excitement that comes with starting a new role. So how can you resolve this before it makes your time in your new role completely unbearable? Let’s look at some options.

Let’s firstly assume that your teammates are reasonable, rational, and decent people. Let’s also assume they are imperfect, subject to errors in judgement, and impatient at times. In other words, let’s assume that they are normal, everyday people.

If this is consistent behaviour coming from multiple teammates, it’s possible that you happen to have a bunch of harsh colleagues, or if multiple people are responding in similarly dismissive ways, the common variable is you!

One of the first principles of interpersonal effectiveness is Work on Me First. This isn’t a principle of self-abuse. It’s a principle of self-empowerment. It doesn’t suggest that you let others mistreat you. What it counsels us to do is scrutinise the human tendency to tell victim and villain stories. When others behave in ways we don’t like, the natural human response is to tell ourselves a mental story that showcases our virtues and absolves us of responsibility for the problem. “I’m new on the team, so of course I have a lot of needs!” “I say good morning to colleagues like polite people do!” “I ask a lot of questions because I am a humble and dutiful employee!” Etc., etc. By so doing, we make ourselves out to be innocent victims of the mistreatment of others.

The second dangerous tendency we have is to villainise the other person. We collect grievances and ignore exceptions. I notice every time my morning greeting is not reciprocated but dismiss the times that it is. I lock onto the times my question isn’t answered and ignore the times it is.

The best strategy here is to work on one’s self first. Challenge the story we tell ourself. For example, ask:

  • Am I being insensitive in the timing of my questions?
  • Am I over-asking rather than figuring things out on my own?
  • Have I offended someone, somehow?
  • Have I come across as needy, high-maintenance and demanding?
  • Have I built a reputation of being low-maintenance and high-value add, or the reverse?

If we examine these and similar questions, we can often find room for improvement. And if we have assumed correctly that our colleagues are reasonable, rational, and decent people—they will begin to respond differently as we work on improving.

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