You Can Sit With Us: 3 Tips for Avoiding Cliques
written by regular contributor, natalie jean
Over the years, I’ve come to realize the importance of community. It’s encouraging to have a group of friends or like-minded entrepreneurs surrounding me to bounce ideas of off, inspire one another, and just have some fun! Community is healthy and it keeps our spirits up.
There is a kind of community, however, that can be toxic to your reputation as well as your spirit. I quickly learned this and decided I wanted to be as far away from this type of community as possible.
It’s called a clique.
Movies, books, and tv shows always seem to depict cliques as these groups of secluded, usually mean people. A group of girls that thought they were better than everyone else, a group of athletes that always excluded the weaker player, even clubs that required embarrassing initiation to get into. Cliques are bad news.
Growing up, I always felt like I was on the outside looking in. I had a handful of great friends and we always tried to be kind to people and include others. I felt the sting of mean comments from snooty girls in high school. I felt left out in middle school when I didn’t have a particular talent or extra-curricular to set me apart from the rest.
Then in college I had a few close friends but that was all. It wasn’t until the last week of my senior year, right before I graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree and turned into a “real adult” (what is that anyway?) that I heard a rumor about my friends and I. Apparently we were considered a clique on campus.
I’ll be honest, the moment I heard this, I had to take a few deep breathes to keep from bursting into tears. No way! I never felt like I had purposefully excluded anyone or was mean to people that tried to befriend me. I didn’t gossip or say mean things about other students and I was a co-leader of an art club on campus too where I met with other students once a month and we worked on our art skills together. The fact that someone considered my friends and I to be a clique was shocking.
I definitely had to do some reevaluating and self-assessment in light of this rumor. What was I doing or what could I do better to not be seen in this negative light? For days I focused on what I did that disqualified me from “being in a clique” but it wasn’t until I thought about what I wasn’t doing that I realized I totally had room for improvement.
I think we all want to be a part of something bigger.
We all want community and connection and friendships that will last a lifetime. We focus on what we want, but we forget to remember that others might want this to. Some days we need to remind ourselves: You’re not the only one on the hunt for connection. So after much thought, I’ve realized three things that I personally need to work on and maybe they’ll be helpful to you as well.
Skip The Small Talk
I am 100% an introvert, especially when I meet new people. I’m really bad at coming up with small talk topics so sometimes I feel like I might not sound genuine. I think that skipping small talk and diving straight in to a good conversation can not only help the conversation stay alive, but it can help you sincerely connect and grow in your friendship.
Asking about something that you talked about the last time you had a conversation shows you care and that you were listening. Here are a few ideas too: How was their recent trip? What excites them in their life at that moment? What plans do they have for the upcoming month? How are their kids/spouse/family doing? These questions are so much more fun to answer (and will probably give you a little more to talk about) than just the simple, “How was your day?”
I’ll be honest, sometimes I get embarrassed when I show too much emotion. It’s like opening up a little window to your heart and giving everyone a peek. In response to that embarrassment, I can seem reserved or closed off. I don’t really like that either. So what do you do? Just be yourself!
Expressing your joy when you see a friend walk in the room, giving a hug if you're a hugger, or personally thanking someone for being at an event can really go a long way. Plus it shows your authentic self, you aren’t holding back. A little excitement and love are much better received than a polite nod or formal handshake. Express your joy to be a part of the community you’re surrounded with.
Everyone loves a good compliment. Let people know that you see them, you care about them, and you appreciate them! “Cute shirt” is a good compliment, but what about “You’re always so good at coming up with great ideas” or “You’re so organized! It really helps the team out.” Building one another up goes a long way and creates a firm foundation of positivity, respect, and trust.
In college I mostly kept to myself and my friend group. While I was never outright mean to anyone, I can now see where that rumor stemmed from. I wasn’t in a “mean girls” clique but I also wasn’t making a huge effort to get to know people and pour into their lives. I wasn’t fostering community in those I interacted with, just embracing what I already had. As I’ve started to practice these tips more often, I’ve made new friends and felt more connected to others than I ever had.
Natalie Jean is an entrepreneur in her early twenties who is married to her best friend, Mark and cat mama to Fern, their rescue kitten. She writes for A Tiny Traveler Blog and is the founder of Oakmoss Collective. Oakmoss Collective is a community that believes in supporting other creatives and encouraging them to embrace the simplicity + beauty of life through get-togethers, workshops, and online. She loves warm cups of coffee, eucalyptus, being outside, and getting creative.