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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Being on the Outside

I'm not a people person. If I followed my "druthers" I'd stay home, reading books and puttering. Yet, I'm involved in several on going groups, book groups, choirs, homeschooling, church, etc. Being involved in my community, giving back, and keeping in touch is important to me even if, as an introvert, being with other people is tiring. Dealing with people is a skill that doesn't come naturally, so I'll share a little of what I've learned.

Recently I had the unpleasant experience of being an "outsider", attending a regular meeting that I had missed for many months. It was a good reminder of how hard it is to join an existing group, and what a group can look like from the outside. It's difficult to see why we should make the effort if we're going to be excluded or even experience rudeness when we attempt to get involved. So, for today, here are two perspectives to consider.

The existing group has a history and a culture that doesn't involve you. When you show up, full of energy and ideas, you challenge that. Until you've been showing up for a while, until the individuals in the group know you, trust you, and believe that you understand the culture, structure, and purpose of the group, you will continue to be an outsider. Even short absence can lead to being an outsider in some groups.

Before you expect to be included, be prepared to put in some time equity. Think about what your values are and what communities are worth getting involved in. Although human nature will always be what it is, some are more welcoming than others. Groups that revolve around a shared goal and some sort of work, like a performance group or volunteer organization, will probably make room for you quickly, happy to use your skills.

Spend some time making meetings and learning about the groups goals and dynamics before opening yourself up or expecting acceptance. You're the new one here. It's easy step on toes if you're not familiar with how things are done. Just your presence can build a bit of trust equity with the group, so it's not wasted time. If this is a group you want to be involved in, be ready to give it some time and effort.

Make friends with individuals within the group. Be respectful of existing relationships, and create some of your own. As a whole, I find large groups intimidating. I do better when I know some individuals within the group. An individual can often clue me in on details I'm unfamiliar with, and if nothing else, be one face I can be genuinely glad to see.

Volunteer to do some real work. If an opportunity arises to be of use, grab it! There's nothing like being of value and doing something useful for getting involved and being included. If after a time you still feel excluded, or even taken advantage of, then that will tell you something about the group, and perhaps about your own skills at making connections.

If you are part of an existing group (that is open to new people), be aware of newcomers. Think about how you are being perceived, both as a group and as an individual. The group might even want to have a regular way of welcoming newbies, and helping them be included. Work to create a positive and welcoming culture. If your group has a negative culture you will not only scare off new people, but probably experience attrition of existing members. If there's not already a person who takes it upon themselves to be welcoming of newcomers, consider being that person.

I'm not skilled at people stuff or groups at all. Man, this topic is hard for me. I can only share my own experiences. Please, if you have ideas, share them!

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