As is now customary for my blog posts, they are headlined with one word as a hashtag (oh how “Millennial” of me) and a dictionary-like definition of the word to open the thought sluice gates.
It’s a really quite harsh word this. To shun or be shunned is a pretty damning way to be.
I was shunned recently. And it hit me. Pretty hard. It was a glance towards me, a look away, then an almost sneer as they — still in my line of sight — walked briskly past me. I went to raise a hand in a “hi” kind of way and was met with this.
In computing this, and making sense of my genuine reaction of (minor — admittedly) shock, I reflected on who that person was and what that person was now in the regard of a once-respected peer or former friend.
It led me to rationalise it and even externalise with a close friend and highly respected peer. There was a “WTAF?” reaction from them and I felt somewhat comforted by that.
Of course, when we’re shunned like this we have a lot going on.
- What had I done to this person that made them so deliberately passive aggressive towards me?
- What had I done to others, that they believed in, that caused that reaction?
- Why was I bothered by someone I no longer hold that once lofty regard for, feel pretty badly let down by and, despite bearing no malice, has nothing at all to do with the life and professional endeavours I’m engaged in anymore anyway. Why was I bothered?
Because it was unkind. Simple as that. I couldn’t think of a wrongdoing. I did think of some others close to this person who have also pretty actively withdrawn/are weird towards me where once they were nothing like that.
Oh well, “nowt so queer as folk” they say.
Yet being shunned got me thinking about a lot of people who shun a lot of their fellow humans out of some form of tactical withdrawal or distanced from.
It’s not nice.
When we’re shunned we have that lingering self-doubt; anxiety; over-analysing everything you’ve ever said, done or gotten involved in.
We make connections to the most bizarre things you did that weren’t proud of and think it’s “that” that’s caused this.
We withdraw. Wounded somewhat, by a look, a vibe, a noticeable ignorance towards everything you say, do, or post.
So, I got to thinking who I’ve shunned. And of course, in many ways, I have. Maybe not deliberately and with malice aforethought. Maybe with a little disinterest or neglect. And I found myself beating myself up over that too; like this shunning was recompense for things I’d done like that. I’m not so “all good” as I think I am. Whilst I don’t feel anger or animosity towards others is a good use of my energy, I have an undulating argument with myself. That, on the one hand, we are all fallible and there are only so many folks we can be active and tight too (proven by Robin Dunbar’s work deducting we can only hold a maximum of 150 friendships in any period of our life); and on the other hand, it’s all about the people who really matter.
Even if I was guilty of some pretty, not nice shunning, I genuinely haven’t had the audacity to slightly see, look straight ahead and then sneer as I walked past them. Even if they’ve done me wrong.
But we do this ALL the time in work. And that is the point of this blog post sparked by personal circumstance.
When we, as leaders, shun someone’s good intention to give us feedback, advice or call out a malevolent behaviour.
When we, as team members, shun someone’s silent cry for help when we see them struggling with their workload, relationships or confidence.
When we, as collaborators, shun the person who isn’t like us, doesn’t share our views precisely and has alternative views on things.
We shun without considering the weaponised, frosted way we’re being. We put it down to intolerance, disdain or dislike.
So what do we do in work situations where we can’t “square those circles”?
Call it out I guess is one answer. Honestly say to this person “because of X, I’m struggling with that. So I’ll no longer be able to Y with you.” Hard because it’s fronting the person up. Because it’s having the conviction that this person is not how you’d like them to be and that raising it could cause conflict you could do without.
Withdraw is another answer. And that’s what we largely do. But this can be confusing. It’s safest perhaps. To let it just drift. Move apart and leave it as a “once was” relationship.
Bitch, whine and moan to others. We do that a LOT. We poison other’s views on people. We want though, to rationalise our disdain much like I wanted to rationalise what happened to me.
Or just, you know, be civil as part of that gentler withdrawal. Acknowledge them, be decent in even a polite nod. Because you may never be deep in conversation with them again. We can all pick up hints and vibes. So withdrawal can happen where you put it into a reboot of the initial acquaintance-type relationship it was before you got a little closer to this person.
In teams, in firm set-ups, collective endeavours, it’s harder to just do the gentler thing. You’re encased in something with others. So the feedback is the only thing to do in that situation. In casual relationships, gentle and civil withdrawal is all you need to do to avoid shunning someone as a sign of at least dignified disagreement with who they are.
So this is another reason why I like teams that form, do, disband. Reform with other people, do and then disband. If you then regard each other enough, you keep coming back together because you’re likely to suffer other’s inadequacies and difference, because you regard each other enough to do this.
Which is why the pressure cooker of hard-structured teams still doesn’t sit well with me. More transience, choice and fluidity means you can manage this fracture of regard more naturally.
It again supports my view that there’s too little choice in the world of work about who we affiliate, work and get on with. Which is where more naturally adjusting combinations of people seems to avoid this spiky, discord-like way of being. And when we’re constantly working alongside people we just don’t get and align to is so so hard. One of the reasons I was happy to see the back of a fixed job and corporate life was that I could choose more who I worked with. Based not a playground-esque BFFs scenario, but about genuine choice and natural blossoming and drifting of relationships.
So before you shun, think what it does. Before you shun, think it speaks volumes to who you are — not so much who they are.
Be kind. Decent. And de-shun your life for a sweeter way to be.