I received a great question from the ChangeYourTeam community recently: How long should it take after joining a team for a new member to be treated fairly? Of course the obvious answer is “no time!” I would hope that a new team member would be treated fairly right from the start.
But I’m not delusional so I know that sometimes joining a team that’s set in its ways can be really challenging. People might be curt with you while being friendly and chatty with their long-term teammates. Conversations might stop abruptly when you walk in the room, leaving you to wonder if they were talking about you. Your naïve questions might be met with eye rolls and harrumphs. There are no shortage of ways for your new teammates to make it clear that they didn’t invite you. (For fun and commiseration, share the most egregious new team member dis you’ve ever received in the comments below.)
So what do you do?
The first thing to remember is that behavior like that isn’t normal and it’s not acceptable. The vast majority of people will make an effort to make you feel welcome. So anyone being so obviously hostile probably has an issue of their own they’re dealing with. Gnarly behavior means stress is lurking somewhere! And I don’t mean your stress—I mean theirs!
Be kind. Maybe your arrival makes the person feel insecure and worried about their relevance. What if you are replacing someone they really liked who was terminated? A little empathy goes a long way.
After that, try these techniques:
- Don’t respond in kind. If the person is snarly about something you say, go back with curiosity. For example, if they tell you you’re “not allowed” to add a new signature line on your email, say “I’m just learning the ropes, who would approve something like that?”
- Share the feedback. You’ll need to find something that the person did that you can give feedback on… then share what they did and the impact on you… for example “At the team meeting this morning, when you referred to how we do things multiple times, I felt like you weren’t giving the new ideas a chance … What would it take for you to give the new approach a try?
- Start to build a relationship. It’s probably going to be tough to just strike up a BFF conversation with the person who’s giving you the gears. Instead, try to build connections with other members of the team. Sit near (but not beside) the unfriendly person in the lunchroom. As you engage with your other teammates, you might get some indirect benefit in your relationship with Doubting Thomas.
- Make sure your manager knows. But when you share your concerns, it’s important that you don’t complain. Instead, ask for your boss’ advice. “What have you learned about Sam? How do you think I could strengthen my relationship with her?” This will signal that there’s an issue, without making you look like a complainer. The boss might start to see it and provide some feedback to the person. Alternatively, the boss might help you gain some perspective and help you realize you’re being too sensitive.
Above all else, keep it positive. Nasty, insecure, petty people are eventually found out. You just need to make sure you are on the high road when they get discovered on the low road… if you’re there with them, it looks bad on you too!
The first 3 things to ask when you join a new team