How do I deal with being new in an environment where everyone else has known each other for decades and are not receptive to newcomers or change?
Dear Transplanted Wanderer,
A new job is a huge transition and can be very overwhelming especially if you aren’t feeling welcomed into the new environment. As a newcomer, it is easy to conclude that team members aren’t open to change when they’ve worked together for many years. Learning a new role and office dynamics with colleagues that are seemingly cliquey and not open to new people or ideas makes the adjustment to a new environment considerably harder. Let’s talk through what you can consider doing in this situation.
First, you were hired because of your skills and anticipated contributions to the work and team. Don’t lose sight of this and recognize that showing an openness to learn and curiosity to understand the new people and environment is a starting point to connect with team members. How you are perceived by the team contributes to how successful you’ll be in contributing new ideas and encouraging innovation.
Have you considered reaching out to your colleagues to set up 1:1 chats? It can be easier to get to know someone one-on-one. Schedule time with new colleagues to get coffee or lunch and get to know each other. Ask them about their role, what they enjoy most about their colleagues, how specifically you’ll work with or support them, and any tips they have for a newcomer to the team. Your supervisor should also support your onboarding by sharing a list of critical partners and connecting you to people. This will help build your professional network as well as rapport and trust with your colleagues. Be prepared to share information about yourself that will help you build connections. This can include what drew you to working in this role, something you really excel at, or something you’re eager to put into action in the new role.
Establishing initial trust and rapport will hopefully open these colleagues to your ideas. If not, when it comes to making changes, start small. I can see someone being turned off if they’ve been at an organization for decades and the newbie is (they feel) one-upping them or trying to bring about sudden change without knowing the history of the organization. I’m not saying you shouldn’t make suggestions--just be cognizant of how you come off, who’s in the room, and understanding/giving value to the history (easier said than done, I know!). Maybe there is old animosity somewhere that is making it harder for people to accept you. Sometimes when I’m not sure, I bring up suggestions to my supervisor first and get their perspective about whether it makes sense to bring something up to the larger group. Your supervisor is hopefully someone you can go to for tips and support in general. Oh, the messes I would have unknowingly walked into if I hadn’t had those conversations beforehand!
If, after a few months, despite your best efforts in trying to build rapport and asking for support, you still feel left out and not heard, then ask yourself: Is this interfering with you doing your job? If it is, then it's a problem that needs to be addressed with management. If it’s not getting in the way of your work, do you need to feel connected to your colleagues in order to be happy? Or, are you OK doing the work and then logging off to your own social support systems and fulfilling life outside of this job? I know colleagues that work 9-5, pick up their paycheck, and then go home to their social network and hobbies. They are as cordial as necessary with their colleagues and nothing more. While others, yours truly included, can’t work in a place without a community that listens to and appreciates them. Ask yourself these questions and if you find yourself struggling, maybe at the end of the day this job isn’t the best fit for you. You need to decide what is best for you.
P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for Transplanted Wanderer? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!
Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.