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The Pain of Exclusion Is Real
When leaders exclude team members from activities, meetings, or initiatives, it is common for those colleagues to experience social pain.
Whenever people feel abandoned, rejected, or disconfirmed, they experience an intense pain not unlike the physical pain we endure after being injured. In fact, social and physical pain register in the same area of the brain and share many of the same symptoms.
The need to maintain social connections is powerful. Social pain can, thus, cause people to react both physically and mentally.
When others don’t include us, purposely ignore us, fail to ask our opinions on weighty matters, forget to invite us to special events, or suggest the meeting doesn’t require our attendance, we feel more than undervalued, underappreciated, and rejected. We experience painful emotions. Unlike the physical pain of an ailment or sprain, social pain can linger long past an incident, sometimes for days, months, and even years.
The function of social pain is similar to physical pain. It alerts us to threats against our social wellbeing. To avoid such negative emotions, people naturally behave in ways that protect their relationships with others. This is true even for people who feign they don’t care about what others think of them or insist they are not affected when they are excluded from team activities.
Leaders often feel like they’ve tried everything to get a given team member to engage, or refrain from signaling to everyone else that they are above team rules and commitments. The temptation is to throw up their hands and accept that some colleagues just won’t play.
The truth is, even these wayward and highly resistant colleagues don’t want to be excluded, ignored, or rejected by the team and the team leader. When leaders purposely disinvite these headstrong team members and ask them not to attend meetings or participate in team activities, the social pain felt as a result can have a profound effect on the attitudes they hold.
Used as a last resort, leaders who purposely exclude team members will often find a huge shift in their willingness to play along. The power of social connections and relationships is fundamental to humanness.
Before a leader accepts a team member who rejects the group and refuses to comply with ongoing rules and commitments, perhaps they should simply agree with the colleague and suggest there is no reason for them to participate in any team activity. The reaction might be astonishing.
The social pain dissipates quickly once it is done teaching resistant colleagues what really matters. Pain is one way we learn.