GUEST AUTHOR BLOG: Un-Clique at Work and Expand Your Network by Michelle Tillis Lederman, author of “11 Laws of Likability: Relationship Networking... Because People Do Business with People They Like”
Do you eat lunch with the same people at work every day? When you need a mental break, do you find yourself wandering over to chat with the same group of friends? Cliques aren’t just a high school phenomenon; they often form in the workplace too.
In a way, there is nothing wrong with this. It is natural for like-minded people to gravitate to one another, and it can be comfortable and easy to spend your social time at work with the people who are in your circle.
Being part of a group can boost your morale and promote camaraderie; it can lead to increased cooperation, and it can help accomplish broader company-wide tasks across departments. I always counsel that investing in and developing strong relationships with a few key people makes sense, and one of the best ways to do this is to focus on the colleagues with whom you have things in common.
Similarities build connections.
It is crucial, though, to keep expanding your network, and not settle into complacency once you’ve found a group of people with whom you’re comfortable. A clique and a network may be conceptually similar—a band of like-minded people—but they connote very different things. A clique suggests exclusivity; it can keep out instead of invite in. A network is something that continually expands, opening up opportunities and possibilities as it gains strength.
When you surround yourself only with what you know and stick solely to your regular group—your clique—you stop challenging yourself. Growth stagnates and innovation lags. Behaviors and thought patterns become rote. By limiting yourself to your comfortable circle, you’re apt to only get feedback from people who are prone to agree with you, and you can unwittingly consign yourself to a group-think mentality.
Not being part of a clique can be its own quandary. It is important to remember, though, that most cliques are inward looking. If you feel outside the circle, don’t get defensive—your sense of exclusion becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead, focus on building individual connections with the people whom you are genuinely drawn to.
To break the limiting patterns of cliques and discover new connections, try the following:
1) Assume the best. Cliques form as a means of comfort and security; they may appear exclusionary, but they are not always so. Whether you are inside or outside a clique, don’t listen to your negative inner voice. Assume the best intentions of others, more often not you’ll be right. There are always colleagues looking to increase their connections. Stay open to these opportunities instead of shutting them off.
"When you surround yourself only with what you know and stick solely to your regular group—your clique—you stop challenging yourself.""
2) Use your curiosity. One of the key concepts in my book "The 11 Laws of Likability" is the Law of Curiosity: Curiosity creates connections. Build bridges that go beyond your known circle by seeking advice, giving genuine compliments, asking for opinions, or simply posing general questions. These are all ways to open up new paths of communication with someone not yet in your network.
3) Look for commonalities. Sometimes the similarities we have with people are not immediately obvious. Perhaps you share a passion for a cause or a hobby or interest. Probe deeper—again, use that curiosity!—to discover where connections may exist.
4) Extend yourself. Ask someone beyond your circle if they need help. Or, if there’s a colleague whom you admire but haven’t yet had much interaction with, ask that person to help you. People like to be valued and feel needed.
5) Change you routine. Invite someone new to join your group of friends for lunch, or take a break from your crew to chat with a colleague whom you’d like to get to know. By switching up your habits, you open the door to new opportunities.
You don’t have to lose the group of friends you’re already comfortable with in order to continue growing your professional possibilities. It’s all about the mental shift of converting “clique” into “network.”
Michelle Tillis Lederman is the author of “11 Laws of Likability: Relationship Networking... Because People Do Business with People They Like.” She is a keynote speaker, executive coach, and founder of Executive Essentials. Michelle Tillis Lederman, teaches corporations and professionals how to get results with clear, compelling, confident, connected communication. She specializes in enhancing interpersonal communications for higher effectiveness, empowerment, and productivity and has delivered seminars internationally for corporations, universities, high schools, and non profit organizations including; JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Columbia Business School, and The Museum of Modern Art.