The psychology of networking absolutely fascinates me, and the further I delve into my PhD the more I’m learning about all the different phenomenon at play within events.
At networking events themselves the issue of cliques often arrises, and is something people regularly highlight as being a turn-off from attending. Being accepted by social groups is something we all deeply desire, it goes back to the days when if your tribe rejected you you’d literally die – unable to survive alone! So the posibility of being rejected by social groups within a networking event is understandibly enough to prevent people from attending in the first place – why chose to put yourself in such a vunerable and scary position unless you absolutely have to?
In a bid to help you overcome this barrier (not all events have cliques I promise!), and better understand some horrible previous experiences you might have had, here are some top tips for overcoming those cliques:
The first thing we need to remember is that when cliques are formed within events, or within networking groups that meet regularly, the people creating them are doing so from a place of fear. To quote Mean Girls again it’s better to be on the inside, hating life, than to not be in it at all. In the same way children form social circles, sometimes rejecting others for no apparent reason, it can make us feel safer to be on the inside of a group we’re in control of rather than on the outside and alone. Within networking events I’d always suggest approaching a group first before simply assuming they’re a clique – groups are just people standing together so they could just be friends or colleagues catching up, possibly scared to break away from the people they know. Cliques however are more difficult to infultrate and intentially put up barriers to prevend others from joining. If they are a group they’ll be more than happy to welcome you in for a chat! If they’re a clique however, it’s time to move on to tip 2…
I’m a real believer it always trying to see things from the other person’s perspective, even if they’re a tw@t. Looking for ways to empathise with people who behave badly can help us better understand their actions, and help bring us closer together. An interesting construct exists called ‘Social Distance’ examines the levels of closeness between two groups or communities. It’s often measured using the Bogardus Scale which looks at how much empathy exists between two groups – the higher the levels of empathy the closer the two group, the lower the empathy the further apart they are. If we can try to empathis with each other through communication and better understand we’ll be able to break down the barrier created by cliques, and be able to create a much more welcoming environment for everyone.
There’s a lot of power dynamics at play within networking events and often when we feel vunerable we look for ways to create our own power. This is where cliques can come in. The people creating the cliques are looking for ways to reclaim some power in an environment they feel powerless in, something that once understood can help us better empathise with their actions. When new people try to join a clique the existing members can become protective because they feel like someone’s trying to take that power away – this isn’t the case, but again it can help explain some people’s behaviour. If you ever find yourself in a clique, being aware of this can help you step out of it and welcome others in – which in the longrun will serve you so much more than isolating yourself from the wider community.
If you do have a bad experience with cliques at an event or within an organisation please speak to the host – they’re there to help, and they want to get value from their events! If they don’t know what’s going on they they can’t address it, so chatting to them should always be a first course of action. On the rare occasion a host can be part of the clique too and if that’s the case, see tip 5.
Sometimes it’s just not worth it and that’s completely okay – simply walk away! There are so many wonderful, supportive, welcoming events out there if you’ve one a few goes and experienced the same thing then it’s important to let yourself leave. At the end of the day it’s their loss, not yours, so don’t continue to put your time and energy (and often money!) into events that don’t value you – you’re a boss!
I really hope this helps to make cliques a little less scary, a bit more understandable, and empowers you to take tackle them head on. Remember, no one likes a mean girl (or boy) so let’s look after each other and make networking events as warm and welcoming as they can be.