Wallflower is a funny term. Those standing on the edge of the crowd in a room, who shrink away from the chance to engage with others. Often, the introvert card is played to explain the phenomenon. That fits at times, but it’s probably not a universal reason. In my own experience, when I’ve approached the edges to meet and converse with someone, he/she has been a delight to engage. The conversation, full of stories, has shown me that some extroverts find themselves along the wall.
So, what can it be? Opportunity.
Ronald, played by Patrick Dempsey, finds a way to create opportunity to get into the crowd he thinks can set him up for long term success in “Can’t Buy Me Love.” When all of the toothpicks and rubber bands he has built for his new “It Guy” reputation come crashing down, he is back to the fringes but with no one standing next to him. He forced an opportunity based upon wrong expectations (hilarious to watch), but his high school life did ultimately change as a result.
An open door can change the course of an evening event for an attendee. A kind introduction can alleviate the fear welling inside the new member. An inviting gesture to someone on the fringe will invoke a smile, which starts a chain reaction of confidence. These are not fanciful pictures alone, but viable considerations for inclusion, growth and development.
Belonging is an ingrained desire for all of us; we’re wired for community. And while some only desire a community of a few, some are looking for hundreds. It does not matter. Our disposition towards connection runs deep. We want to know we’re okay, we belong and that we matter. A wallflower has these needs as much as the life of the party.
In our developmental plans for teams, what does the concept of community look like? It would be unwise to assume everyone knows how to behave or respond to connection. Just as with many other skill development opportunities, the background and personal experience of each is varied. As such, the approach, expectation and result of the skill is not consistent with others.
It is wise for us to instruct regarding community and connection. Most will appreciate that belonging is a basic need, but the expectations as to what that belonging means should be guided. I have watched very needy people feel consistently disappointed because the relationships they’ve made don’t fulfill them. In great part, this is due to their unrealistic expectations for community. It has not been a concept discussed with them during their formative years so they’ve adopted these unreachable ideals. It’s okay for us to provide guidance and clarity.
The easiest starting point is to use team development opportunities. A community at our workplaces starts with the handful in a particular department or workgroup. How do they function? In what ways could they function better because of connection improvement and community impact? These answers will lead to the premise of a development plan.
A wallflower isn’t necessarily an awkward person; just one looking for an open door. Grab the handle and open it with them. A buddy makes new adventures memorable and leave a lasting impression.