A few years ago I joined the board of a national organization. In the first meeting, I instantly hit it off with one of the other directors. We both seemed to share the same sense of humour, as well as a similarly analytical approach to getting things done. We didn’t always agree with each other (a huge understatement) but we inevitably migrated to each other before and after meetings and during breaks.
By the third meeting there were three of us. One of the other directors came over during a break and joined in on a heated debate over whether people should be subjected to quinoa. For the record, she took my side – that it is a horrible little grain that should only be served as a form of punishment. By the fifth meeting there were four of us. On the surface, we didn’t have much in common. Different industries, different genders, different races and often wildly divergent viewpoints. But we just sort of enjoyed hanging out together. It was pretty much the same pattern I have experienced with all boards I’ve been a part of.
Apparently we were the cool kids…
It was during a three-day off-site learning session when we got a bit of a lesson on perspective. We were sitting together for breakfast, and one of the other directors strolled over and said, “So, what do I have to do to join the inner circle?” The four of us were a bit startled and more than a little confused. What was he talking about?
We hadn’t realized that people were beginning to perceive us as some sort of exclusive clique. It was news to us. Fortunately, the somewhat awkward moment was quickly broken by one of my colleagues. “You have to buy each of us one drink after work,” she said with a straight face, “and then we show you the secret handshake.”
We have all, at some point in our lives, at work and at home, had the feeling of being on the outside looking in. There is a sense of being excluded — of being alone. It’s not a fun sensation.
The next time it happens, though, take a little step back and consider the principles of perception. The first of these principles is that things may not always be as you are interpreting them. (Here’s a great video in that!)
In the case of board of directors, for example, we were quite mortified to discover that people might have been thinking of us as not being inclusive. We weren’t unique in that regard. What I’ve learned over the years is that most “inner circles” are much the same – with members having no idea that they are an “inner circle,” and no particular agenda to exclude others.
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Two Ways to Join the Inner Circle
It starts with a positive social mindset
If there is a group of people that you would like to be a part of, there are two strategies that work. Before you try them, however, it is important that you start off with a positive, social mindset. You have to think of the individuals involved as just that – individuals. Each, like you, has unique emotions, needs, challenges and joys. If you view them and treat them as a ‘pack’ instead of as a collection of individuals, then it is you who is not being inclusive, and things won’t go well. Remember – they probably don’t see themselves the way you do.
“Hey, can I join you?”
The first way to join the inner circle is to find an appropriate time when they are together and simply go over and say, “Hey, can I join you?” I know that sounds terrifying, but 99 times out of 100 the answer will be “Sure!” Once you are in the group, just be yourself. You have nothing to prove. In fact, the more you listen, laugh and empathize and the less you talk, the smoother things will go. (If actually are terrified to do this, I can’t recommend Jia Jiang’s book enough. It’s fun – and really helps with things like that. The title is Rejection Proof, and you can get it on Amazon Here. )
Make a friend
The second way to join is to get to know one person. Create a connection. Assuming that the two of you hit it off, it becomes natural for you to join the others. Easy peasy.
You will learn three things
However you do it, you are likely to learn three things:
- That this intimidating group is really just a bunch of decent people – just like you.
- That you should always question your first impressions, and;
- That there is no secret handshake. (The director who actually bought us two rounds of drinks still hasn’t forgiven us for that.)