The reason we are all outsiders

Originally posted on 30th June 2015

Or perhaps I should call this “Bound by tribes”.

Since my last blog I have been thinking about boundaries – a lot.

Most of us will have read or been coached to understand that setting your own boundaries is an important step to happier careers.  I agree, but that’s not what’s on my mind.

I can’t stop thinking about the boundaries we have in our lives consciously or otherwise and how they impact our relationships and behaviours.

Are there some parts of your role that by design have to be confidential?  They are not publicised and you are part of an inner circle if you are “in the know”.  I immediately think of examples like data protection and Chinese Walls.  These boundaries are known and understood by most as being for the greater good and protecting something.

Then there are less organised boundaries you set upon yourself and some of these may be reflections of your biases and others may be a deliberate strategy for a measured gain – perhaps networking with a certain crowd is beneficial.  I think these less organised boundaries are really interesting because they drive your membership to the various office tribes, who all have their own rules, hierarchies and behaviour patterns.

Have a think about your tribes and the boundaries that define them. Who do you tell the office gossip too?  What wouldn’t you say to your manager?  Who is invited to the open day?  Which department is “downstream”? Who are the gym people? Who games?  Who loves “bring your child to work day”, and who avoids it?  Who are the alphas?  Who acts as chief whip? And so on.

That’s the reason, that’s why others are outside your tribe, and why you are outside theirs.

Who sets the unwritten rules in your office?  How do they bind you?

Each person fills a role.  They have place in the hierarchy of the tribe and that drives what they feel, think and do. It influences who is included and excluded.

Looking from the point of view of the boundary setter boundaries are defined by our beliefs and our environment.  They create a soft or hard barrier that encircle us completely and may result in us behaving in an unorthodox or inauthentic way to ensure we stay integral to the tribe.

For those on the outside looking in there can be a full range of emotions from resentment, fear or frustration all the way to relief at not having to be “in” at the other end.  Again, since how we feel instigates our actions our response to being an outsider may be an extreme version of your norm, you may find yourself battling hard to join or becoming weary rejecting the tribe.

For me the way we respond to the boundaries also says something about the culture that we work in.  If we are relaxed it suggests a trusting environment where people feel valued and communicate well.  In this case the widest community encourages the individual tribes to coexist and flourish; maybe it simply recognises diversity and inclusion are required for true commercial success.

I imagine the boundaries as bubbles and my mind is fizzing with all the ramifications of all of the boundaries that push against us, that fully encircle us, that we pop accidently and deliberately and those that we slowly blow ourselves and let float aimless and rudderless in the air around us.

I am still working through all my thinking on this, so I’d like to invite you to look around your working environment, seek the invisible boundaries, what are they teaching you about yourself and your environment?

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