This guest post is by Heidi Grant Halvorson, a motivational psychologist and author of “Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals,” which will be published Dec. 23. She is also the author and co-editor of the academic book “The Psychology of Goals.” Follow her on Twitter at @hghalvorson.

It happens all the time in the modern workplace: Someone gets left out of the loop.

Often, it happens unintentionally. A recipient gets left off an e-mail, or your colleague is on vacation when a development occurs and you simply forget to tell him about it when he gets back.

Sometimes, though, we leave people out of the loop on purpose, or strategically. We choose not to share information for political reasons, to consolidate power, for expedience or just to avoid dealing with someone who can be kind of a pain.

I’m sure that every manager who has ever decided to intentionally leave a team member out of the loop has realized that this strategy comes with some risk. You expect the excluded person to be, at the very least, a little annoyed.

You probably don’t understand, however, the magnitude of the risk you are taking and the psychological damage inflicted by this simple act. Getting “annoyed” doesn’t begin to describe it.

Human beings are acutely sensitive to social rejection and ostracism — it’s hardwired into our system, having evolved as a result of our reliance on other humans for survival. Psychologists call being “out of the loop” partial ostracism. You aren’t completely excluded from the group, but you feel that you aren’t completely included, either.

Research shows that even partial ostracism is quickly detected, and that lacking information that others in your group seem to have undermines not one but four fundamental human needs: the need for belonging and connection to others, self-esteem, the need for a sense of control and effectiveness, and the need for meaningful work.

A new set of studies shows that when people feel out of the loop, they immediately (often unconsciously) interpret it as a subtle sign of rejection. As a result, they report trusting and liking their bosses and colleagues less, feeling less loyalty to the company and feeling less motivated to perform.

Interestingly, this is true even when we believe that we have been left out of the loop unintentionally. Why? Well, even when someone accidentally leaves you out of the loop, you often suspect that they could have remembered if it was really important to them, if they really respected you. In the end, even inadvertent exclusion feels like a sign of low status.

So, when you are deciding whether to leave someone out of the loop, think seriously about the consequences of your actions. The short-term gains could be far outweighed by the significant losses of trust, cooperation, loyalty and motivation you create. Is it worth it?

Also, when you find that you have accidentally left someone out of the loop, remember that it’s important for people to feel that their status is respected and acknowledged. It’s worth it to go out of your way to repair the damage by letting them know how much they are valued.

Image credit: DoxaDigital, via iStockPhoto

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12 Responses to “Understand the true cost of leaving people out”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by GameChangers2010, Ken Potalivo. Ken Potalivo said: Understand the true cost of leaving people out – This guest post is by Heidi Grant Halvorson, a motivational psychol… http://ow.ly/1ajUTO [...]

  2. This is a terrific suggestion for dealing with the problem, while avoiding an Inbox that takes half your day to sort through. Thanks for sharing!

  3. [...] the significant losses of trust, cooperation, loyalty and motivation you create," she warns. http://smartblogs.com/workforce/2010/12/06/out-of-the-loop/ Categories: Uncategorized LikeBe the first to like this post. Fed Records Show Aid [...]

  4. mitchgroup says:

    Great points. I do believe that especially in small companies, much of the leaving out of the loop does stem from conscious decisions vs. behavioral norms that have evolved. You mentioned "not being copied on an email" as a possible tactic too. With more companies and people viewing email as the corporate life suck devil, this too can be a challenge. I have found in my work, both inside my own firm and now inside another agile small business (17 people) that collaboration software is KEY to success, transparency, and avoidance of these issues at their root.

    Using online collaboration tools means that onversations, tasks, expectations, etc. are available to the company ecosystem…so if someone is participating at any level in a project or piece of the business, she is in the loop by default. "Corporate spam" is reduced and more people think about what they need to say since it's archived right there for us to see.

    Granted there will always be email outside of the loop, but as a practical matter, subverting the system and trying to run "black ops" via email is just not that easy.

  5. Ian Welsh says:

    Great points, Heidi. Hopefully there will be more sensitivity as inclusion becomes recognized as a key diversity aspect.

    Certainly, as management we can be as careful as possible within our own group, where we have some control on what happens. Unfortunately it seems that fear of "being left out" has a far more serious impact at the top of our organizations, particularly affecting HR.

    HR has positioned itself as a strategic business partner to avoid being left out. However, if becoming "part of" becomes a dominating goal, there is significant risk, I believe, of serious compromise of principles to gain admission at all costs! Management by fear of being left out or let out (fired).

    I believe HR can be different and not left out (integral rather than an add-on) and is more likely to be left out if there is too much attention on being just like the others, but possibly viewed as inferior in that respect by the others.

    Professionally, Heidi, do you think that is a high probability?

    Thanks,

    Ian

  6. Amy says:

    Being left out is a strategy… a corporate mind game to keep people in check but you are right Heidi, it has a huge effect on a persons morale in the workplace so much so it causes employees to spread rumors undermining management and bringing down morale, people steal from the company if they feel they have been cheated, and worst case senerio… they can go what you call "postal".

    It's a shame what goes on in the workplace. It is the reason we are being left in the dust by other countries because we are too busy being insecure (even at top levels), idea stealing, "throwing people under the bus" or playing the blame game to focus on moving forward as a whole.

    But after 20 years, I've figured it out… it's just like high school and I hated high school so therefore I dropped out and run my own company and I know of several others who have had enough… watch out corporate america a new revolution is starting and pretty soon you will not have anyone worthwhile to kick around as most of us who know what we are worth are moving on!

  7. Lynn says:

    This happens in our schools all the time, so you can imagine the havoc it plays with campus morale. Not good for our children!

  8. Deborah A. Diener says:

    Reading this article is really an AH HA moment. How can the victems of this experience, professionally handle the situation without any drama?

  9. Kirk Baumann says:

    Heidi,

    This is a very relevant article. Leaving someone out of the loop can have some very negative effects such as distrust, paranoia, and even hostility towards that particular person. Sometimes, leaving someone out is unintentional – I agree with your point about making it a priority to reconcile this with them.

    Whether you're working with a team of 2 or 200, it's important to communicate effectively and clearly. If it's relevant information to the team, include the entire team. If it's information intended for a smaller audience, send it to them, but I'd suggest bringing everyone in the loop as an FYI. It's good to know what's going on in the organization. Eliminate the shadows and shine light on the things you're doing. If you can't share everything (confidential matters), be transparent enough to tell your team that. They'll understand.

    Just don't leave us out because you don't think we want to know. Let us decide that.

    Keep up the great work!

    Kirk Baumann
    Director of Career Connections
    SIFE USA <a href="http:// -www.sife.org” target=”_blank”> <a href="http://-www.sife.org” target=”_blank”>-www.sife.org
    Blog: <a href="http://www.campus-to-career.com” target=”_blank”>www.campus-to-career.com

  10. [...] Mary Ellen Slayter’s article adds an important element to the discussion of teamwork – what happens when a team member is unused? [...]

  11. [...] Understand the true cost of leaving people out [...]

  12. [...] credit: doxadigital, via istockphoto click here to visit the original article publication [...]

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