Social Entry Strategies: Part I
by Rick Brenner
Much more than work happens in the workplace. We also engage in social behaviors, including one sometimes called social entry. We use social entry strategies to make places for ourselves in social groups at work.
U.S. Military Academy graduates toss their hats during commencement ceremonies at West Point, N.Y., May 23, 2009. It's a scene of intense celebration, a tradition that dates back to 1946. But not every cadet at every graduation experiences pure exultation. James Pelosi, class of 1973, graduated under a cloud that arose from charges of cheating on an exam. Although the charges had been dismissed, at the time, West Point's honor code held that a cadet who broke the Honor Code and did not leave the Academy "will not be allowed to have roommates. He will eat at a separate table. He will be addressed only on official business and then as Mister." More: The Baltimore Sun and The Toledo Blade.
This treatment, known as "The Silence," is one of a class of patterns that social groups use to control entry. They're designed to defeat any entry strategy a joiner might deploy, often, as in this case, with the goal of compelling the joiner to break off all attempts to enter. Photo by Master Sgt. Jerry Morrison, courtesy United States Army.
When we join groups at work, or professional groups elsewhere, we must find space for ourselves and our contributions. Some groups are welcoming. Some aren't. Some joinings are voluntary. Sometimes we're invited. Sometimes we're assigned. Finding space requires different strategies for different situations.
Yet some of us use only a few entry strategies for all situations. Since some strategies work better than others, choosing from a variety of approaches can enhance professional entry experiences. Here's Part I of a short catalog of common workplace social entry strategies, beginning with strategies that emphasize the stance of the joiner.
- By differentiating ourselves, we emphasize our personal uniqueness — our special knowledge, experience, and capabilities. This strategy works well when the group recognizes its need for whatever we uniquely possess.
- Differentiating can be problematic if what we assume is unique about ourselves actually is not. For example, we might assume that we have special skills when some long-time members of the group also have those skills.
- Harmonizing is the dual of differentiating. Harmonizers emphasize their compatibility with the group's goals, outlook, or abilities. Harmonizing works well when the group views itself as unified overall.
- Harmonizing strategies can be problematic, for example, when the group isn't involved in the member selection process. In these cases, harmonizing strategies can seem to be overly ingratiating.
- The object of feeling strategies is building emotional bonds between the joiner and the group and its members. The basis of the bond might be shared affinity for some person, ideology, or goal, but it might also be shared revulsion.
- Feeling strategies might be problematic when the group values rationality over emotion. In these instances, feeling strategies can be augmented with harmonizing on the basis of rational argument.
- Those who employ pairing strategies use their connection to one particular group member as a basis for connecting to the group and its other members. In effect, the pair connection acts as an endorsement of the joiner.
- Pairing strategies Finding space for ourselves
in a new group requires
different strategies for
different situationsmight be problematic when the joiner pairs with a member whose status within the group is either very high or low. When the existing group member has low status, the joiner might inherit low status. When the existing group member has high status, some other members might react as if the joiner is exploiting the pair connection, and is therefore undeserving of entry on his or her own merits.
- Horn-blowers seek entry by promoting their own attributes and accomplishments, real or imagined. Horn blowing differs from differentiating, because the joiner's attributes and accomplishments are not necessarily different from those of other members of the group.
- Horn blowing can be problematic when the attributes or accomplishments are unimpressive or they are shown to be overblown or fictitious.
We'll continue this exploration of social entry strategies next time. Next in this series Top Next Issue
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