Magazine article Management Today

First-Class Coach

Magazine article Management Today

First-Class Coach

Article excerpt

She chose to impress clients with her thinking skills rather than her prowess with a golf club wedge.

Q: I'm a teetotaller and because I don't go boozing with my work colleagues, they treat me like some sort of social pariah. I feel excluded and I worry that it will blight my chances of promotion, since I'm not seen as one of the gang.

A: Group dynamics are a strange thing. Our behaviour changes when we're with other people, socially and professionally. Most groups have codes and rules that have to be observed if we want to be accepted. These can cover the clothes members wear, the vocabulary they use, their body language, even the volume at which they speak. Often the rules are unspoken and unwritten - even unacknowledged by their members. Some are pretty harmless - a firm of surveyors I know sent a young trainee home to change when he turned up to work wearing brown shoes, which was seen as a dreadful faux pas. But some group behaviour at work can be hurtful to the rejected individual, as well as harmful to the enterprise for which they work.

Groups like their members to conform and, depending on the nature of the group, departure from their norms is not tolerated. This is the source of much racial and religious tension, when being different is seen as some sort of threat to group survival or integrity.

To a greater or lesser degree, we all have a need to be included. Depending on its strength, we may be prepared to conform and follow group behaviour, sometimes even going against our own personal values. You feel excluded but you are not prepared to conform.

A similar problem affected one of my clients. The only woman in a management team, she found that all her male peers used golf as the preferred method of business entertaining. As a non-player, she was excluded from many opportunities to engage with clients and prospects.

Should she take up the sport and thus gain greater access to senior management in her own and client organisations? Seeing that the golf days were really a 'boys only' occasion, with much drinking and carousing at the 19th hole, she chose an alternative: to engage with her clients in a more thoughtful way and impress them with her thinking skills, rather than with her prowess with a sand wedge. Though she will never be 'one of the boys', she has succeeded in gaining respect from her management peers. …

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