Out-of-the-Loop

So it’s been a tough few weeks emotionally. Already feeling tender from the events from the past year, any other incidents just seem to rub me up the wrong way. So three separate incidents happened over the past month each sharing the common thread of being ‘left-out-of-the loop’.

The decisions that were made affected my work description and processes, so not really something I should have been left out of. It would have been nice to have been involved in the discussions but if that wasn’t the plan, then I think it was quite essential to have been informed about the decision rather than finding out accidentally and realizing that others knew and I didn’t.

Being included in the discussion would have been beneficial for me because I am a team of one as they told me when I started this job a year ago. “We would like you to run with this job with the same enthusiasm as you have with all the other positions you’ve had here,” they said. ‘It’s your baby and you can do whatever you need to be able to do the job.” So changing my responsibilities and processes without my involvement totally didn’t meet with my expectations. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me as I have worked in this company long enough to know that the exceptions to the rules are the norm. However, to me these two types of communications are conflicting and confusing as well as embarrassing and upsetting.

Besides being hurt and disrespected by being left out of the conversation and not being told of important decisions that affect my processes and how I interact with others with regards to those processes, I felt invisible, unimportant, humiliated, frustrated and demotivated. Since I am intrinsically motivated to do my work, these feelings work against my sense of ownership of my job and, therefore, my efficiency and production.

Having experienced events that my former manager said ‘really stank’ last year and then the emotional abuse from my trainer in this new job for about ten months, these more recent communication issues lead me to jump to those thoughts again that it is a set up to make me leave. Unfortunately, the sum total of these events have almost destroyed my confidence and have left me wondering what is wrong with me – hence my decision to visit with a therapist to get a reality check and to arm myself with tools to move forwards. If I don’t learn these things, then these situations will follow me wherever I go.

So I have been unable to see my therapist for a few weeks – she is pretty popular! So being distressed about these events, I turned to ….. the internet. Yes, I know, not always the most reliable source of information! When I read things on the internet though, I do try to be discerning, to see who has sponsored the article and look to see what truth I can gleam from each article. I also like to see if the articles match my principles and values and are inline with eternal truths that I find in the scriptures.

I came across two articles about ‘being kept out-of-the-loop:

• “The Hidden Dangers of Leaving Someone Out of the Loop” by Heidi Grant Halvorson.

• “Are you being paranoid about being left out of the loop at work?’ by Allison Hirschiag.

I resonated more with Heidi’s article than I did with Allison. I felt minimized by Allison’s article perhaps because the title and contents of of her article talk about paranoia and I need validation and an understanding of the situation.

To summarize Heidi’s article: First of all it identified that my feelings are reasonable and normal. ‘You [can] expect the excluded person to be, at the very least, a little annoyed’.

She said that research shows that leaving someone out of the loop undermines the four fundamental needs:

1. The need for belonging and connection to others;

2. Self-esteem;

3. The need for a sense of control and effectiveness; and

4. The need for meaningful work.

I would probably extend the definition of these four fundamental needs using the six needs of ‘certainty/comfort’; ‘variety’; ‘connection’; ‘significance’; ‘growth’; and ‘contribution’ identified by Derek Doepkoer in ‘The Healthy Habit Revolution’. These needs drive our behaviour by giving us emotional rewards.  In essence:

1. The need for belonging and connection to others;

2. Self-esteem/significance;

3. The need for control and effectiveness or, in other words, certainty and comfort;

4. The need for meaningful work which includes variety, growth and contribution.

Studies also show that this leaving someone out of the loop communicates rejection. ‘Human beings are acutely sensitive to social rejection and ostracism’, writes Heidi. It also generates a perception of low status or standing within the group. Along with the rejection and the perception of low status, the behaviour has the following consequences:

• A loss of trust;

• A loss of loyalty;

• A loss of motivation; and

• A loss of connection between a boss or colleagues.

Heidi further expounds on whether or not leaving someone out of the loop was an intentional or unintentional act, a person may still feel ostracized because if they were respected or important to the other person, they would have remembered.

Heidi advises managers to think long and hard about these issues. If they plan to intentionally leave someone out of the loop, they should assess the risk of short-term gains over the longer and more damaging psychological damage that behaviour inflicts and the resulting loss of trust, cooperation, loyalty and motivation.

As much as Heidi addresses the manager’s responsibility in choosing what action to take regarding this phenomenon, Allison focuses more on the recipient. She advises the recipient to step back from the situation and to reassess it from a different paradigm. She suggests that the recipient take time out to make sure that they are physically fit and emotionally in control so that their outlook is not distorted. I think that this is good advise as one doesn’t want to act in the heat of the moment. It is better to be proactive than reactive.

Once time has been taken to assess one’s outlook, if the circumstances seem to be the same, Allison recommends talking ‘to a confident at work (or a career coach) ‘ to see if these incidents should be investigated further. Allison proposes that an option could be to talk to your boss but with discernment as to what you should bring up. Alternatively, one could let it go and learn to live with uncertainty. I think that the latter is pretty hard to do as it violates the need for a sense of control, effectiveness, certainty or comfort. One has to continue to work in a psychologically damaging atmosphere. Finally, Allison proposes that the recipient has a backup plan and prepares for engagement in another job.

In Allison’s article, there was only one affirmation for the recipient’s concerns regarding being left out of the loop. She cited that ‘studies at Harvard University have shown that anxious thoughts can have a negative impact on your productivity – which could lead to you actually losing your job’. However there were four negative pronouncements. She states that the recipient should leave paranoia at the door. To me, to address the recipient’s feelings as paranoia is not very validating. Yes, one becomes anxious in these situations but to suggest that one has mental disorder due to poorly executed management techniques seems to be adding insult to injury.

The word ‘paranoia’ is a very strong word with highly negative connotations. Allison states that leaving people out of the loop is a common trigger sparking paranoiac behaviour in the office. She quotes Dr. Menard who says that recipients ‘expect others to judge them as harshly as they judge themselves, yet they’re almost always wrong’. Being told that what I feel is wrong or that my perceptions of the situation are not valid is degrading and demeaning.

On the other hand, I think that Allison is trying to allude to the extremes one’s thinking can go especially if one is a perfectionist. Since I am a perfectionist, you can see an example of this when I jump to the idea that the whole thing is a set up to make me leave.

I also feel that, in my case, being excluded from discussions for process and job changes that were in the sphere of my responsibilities devalues me as a person. It demonstrates that management does not think that I could come up with a solution to the problem and that my opinions or insights lack value or are meaningless. It leaves me with a feeling that I don’t belong. I find the contrast between Allison and Heidi stark on the the reaction of the recipient. Heidi is saying that it is normal for a human to be angry in this situation, whereas Allison is saying when the recipient reacts, they go to the level of paranoia.

Allison winds up her thoughts by saying ‘but if you consistently do good work and add value to the company, there’s often not much more you can do. For example, layoffs can happen for any number of reasons, few of which are directly related to your individual performance.” This really sums up the powerlessness a recipient can feel when their managers make a habit of keeping them out of the loop on important decisions, meetings, changes to processes, etc.

So having read these two articles, what did I learn and how can I apply it to my situation? I think that I rejected the paranoiac concepts. I actually think it is bad manners to not keep someone in the loop. I don’t care who it is. I also think it is poor management. It creates a divisive atmosphere in a team. Good communication creates unity and increases productivity. As a recipient of the behaviour I have zero control over the situation except to exercise total responsibility for my behaviours and to prepare myself for different employment. Contesting the issues creates more conflict especially when one is criticizing one’s own managers who do not acknowledge their weaknesses or do not want to change. I fear drawing appropriate boundaries would probably lead to the need to seek other employment but would leave one’s self-respect intact. As a leader and teacher in my family and also at church, I can make sure that I try to implement the good practice of keeping those I interact with in the loop. I can focus on the good in others. I can respect individuals and our diversity. I can value all efforts that people make and can emphasis people’s potential and ability to grow. If I unintentionally mess up then I can strive to make sure that the person I left out feels respected and valued. In my efforts to keep and maintain unity in my family and within my church family, I can expect a high degree of bonding, loyalty, motivation and an effectiveness in our efforts to work together.

First Published in Roaming Brit on April 11th, 2018.

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