Grownup coping for embarrassingly middle-school work dynamics?

Post date: 2018-10-06 19:16:05
Views: 10
For the foreseeable future, I'm in a job where several immediate coworkers seem to low-key dislike me. Fair enough, but I've got mild social anxiety tendencies, and this really exacerbates them. Suggestions for staying sane and socially functional?

Background: My job has a semi-autonomous workplace structure: we mostly work on independent projects and don't necessarily collaborate or report to others on a daily basis. However, there is a (loose) hierarchy, and colleagues definitely have the opportunity to impact one's success via framing on big performance reviews, extending or withholding special opportunities, etc.. So others' opinions do matter in a non-trivial way.

We also have a very intimate office setup, where about 6 people work in adjacent, mutually audible cubicles, with another cluster or two nearby.

Socially, I'm kind of a big geek, but I think I'm fairly functional. I'm an introvert and probably tend too much toward a guileless puppy-type demeanor, but I've been told I'm a good listener, and I definitely have a good (possibly overactive) ability to monitor the emotional tone of interactions with others.

When I arrived at this job a few years back, there were a few months where I was warmly welcomed into the main social circle within our department. At this point, it became evident that notwithstanding the surface civility in the office, people did a fair amount of gossiping and vicious complaining about certain coworkers outside the circle, and that there were networks of key information/influence from which other people were excluded.

Thereafter, following some personnel shifts-- new hires, coworkers returning from leave of absence-- I gradually fell out of that main circle, for some reason. (I've thought plenty about why this happened-- there are a variety of possible political reasons, though I'm not aware of actually having done anything wrong-- but I've concluded that trying to pin it down is just a fruitless and crazymaking endeavor).

Since then, I've definitely been relegated to the outgroup, albeit in a low-key way. There's no real bullying, just lots of dispiriting non-inclusion: colleagues assembling and walking together to org meetings without waiting for me. Colleagues frequently visiting others' spaces to share random jokes/ stories/social plans without casting a glance toward me sitting 3 feet away. Flat, terse hallway interactions (versus warm, effusive interactions within the group). But mostly, there are bouts of whispering in nearby cubicles that drive me kind of insane, because from earlier experience I know that signals an exchange of gossip or information that needs to be kept from someone else in the cluster, and I'm generally the only one around who could plausibly be out of the circle.

I'm not sure that anything can be done to change this social dynamic, but I could really use some suggestions for rolling with it and not letting it interfere with my wider job performance. I've got some mild social anxiety stuff (mostly anxious overanalyzing, then being awkward after), and hoo boy, the randomly spaced negative stimulus really kicks that into overdrive. I also feel like after a couple of years of this I've developed a bit of an outcast/ low-status self-image that probably harms my self-presentation elsewhere in the org-- I've noticed myself being much more apologetic and self-deprecating when I interact with people, for instance. Finally, I'd really like to be able to reclaim the time I now spend in paranoid attempts to overhear or reconstruct what people are whispering about-- even if, as is at least possible, they really are whispering about me or things that could negatively impact me.

I know the stock recommendation would be CBT for social anxiety, but I'm not sure how helpful that will be when there are no obviously huge cognitive distortions in play-- just a kind of crappy situation that I need to emotionally regulate my interactions with. I mostly need some techniques for getting myself to a calm, confident headspace, and interacting from a place of strength and authenticity, even as a sensitive person receiving ongoing negative social cues from those around her. Goonies-style coalition with other outgroup members is not an option; they're mostly scattered and work at a greater distance from the social center than I need to. Any suggestions would be much appreciated. Thanks, Metafilter!
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