You Will Be Overlooked During the Course of Your Career

Note: This is Part 4 of the 5-Part series, These 5 Things Will Happen During the Course of Your Career. You can view the first 3 parts by clicking the links below.

Accept this handful of things for a head start:

1) You will fail
2) You will be offended
3) You will be underestimated
4) You will be overlooked
5) You will bounce back

I hate to break it to you, but you will be overlooked during the course of your career. Call it rejection, call it what you will. It isn’t always fair and it doesn’t always make sense, but you can learn from it. And whether or not you believe that “everything happens for a reason,” it’s my belief that “when one door closes, another door opens.” So don’t get yourself too worked up over not being considered for a promotion or being excluded from some team or group exercise. Don’t “overlook” the silver lining.

Understand What's Happening

In last week’s post about being underestimated, we talked about being under-utilized, under-compensated, unappreciated, and how to course-correct. Being overlooked can resemble being underestimated and even contain elements of the same behavior. But being overlooked can also happen on a much more general level, in a social context, or completely innocently.

Being underestimated requires the person who is misjudging, misusing, or misplacing someone else to have a reason for the choices or judgments they’ve made. Whether it’s a stereotype, a preconceived notion, a misunderstanding, or a bias, the various types of underestimation and the ensuing decisions all come from an idea we’ve formed about a person. If you’ve been overlooked, it may or may not have been deliberate, and it could have been as simple as someone having a poor memory.

Of course, we must always consider alternate possibilities, and if you’ve been overlooked multiple times by the same person or people, maybe you’re no longer in the mood to give anyone the benefit of the doubt.

Your Approach Should Always Be Neutral

No matter how serious the oversight, when you realize you’ve been forgotten or excluded from something, try not to infer meaning where there isn’t any by jumping to conclusions. When we do this we are automatically training our minds to look for the negative, and it tricks us into seeing things that might not be there. I don’t mean hallucinations, but fabricating this reality where Steve gave you a dirty look when he walked by your office and snubbed you when you saw him in the lobby before he coincidentally “forgot” to include you on an important group email.

Or let’s say you’ve just hit a milestone at work and no one (not even your closest colleagues) recognized it. Whether it was a work-iversary or a birthday, unless there’s a designated person whose job it is to keep track of important dates for everyone in the company and notify others, you can’t expect your direct supervisor or even your work bestie to remember that you started working with them September 19th five years ago. So before you freak out because there aren't balloons and cake waiting for you at work that morning, remember that it doesn’t mean you’re not important or that you’re not doing a good job - it’s just that other people have a lot of their own dates and “stuff” to keep track of.

The one thing you never want to do (besides hallucinate dirty looks and imagine being snubbed) is to let negative emotions fester and build up. It will change your demeanor in a very noticeable way and, most likely, everyone around you will wonder why you’re so snippy and sensitive lately. The best way to proceed if you feel you’ve been unjustly overlooked is to ask and clarify – don’t be afraid to make people aware of how you feel instead of stewing about something.

There Are Varying Degrees of Neutrality

You might be wondering, “How the heck can I remain neutral when I feel so certain that I was deliberately ignored? I don’t deserve that! I’m” (mad/hurt/insulted/embarrassed/insert other negative adjective here.) The key is to use your emotions as tools. Understand them and draw on your feelings to bridge a gap or patch a hole in communication.

It really doesn’t matter how you approach the topic, as long as you don’t do so with anger or otherwise unprofessional undertones. You might be feeling forlorn, chagrined, rebuffed, annoyed, or downright pissed. But it’s your responsibility to understand your feelings and what caused them before you can move forward, and I’d suggest asking a question before diving too deep into explaining how you feel.

There may be an opportunity to save face and spare others from having a potentially awkward or uncomfortable conversation. When you ask the question, "Hey, did you forget to add me to the list of people participating in Friday's contest?" the answer might be as simple as “I’m so sorry! I did forget! I’ve got so much on my plate. I’ll add you to that list right now.” Boom – problem solved (and you didn't even have to admit that you felt some kind of way).

If you’re being regularly skipped over, the “I feel x” talk might be necessary, but let’s look at a few different approaches that could make the difference between your delivery sounding whiny to mildly assertive and respectable:

Three Viable Approaches

  • The Joke: You could tease – “Hey Gary, I know I’m like the 30th person in the office whose name starts with J in Outlook so, next time you’re emailing the group, can you create a distribution list and be sure to add me? I’m always getting your emails forwarded to me by Jenn, and I’m starting to get a complex about it!” This is much less scary (for you) and much softer to them. You're also less likely to sound like a weirdo for blowing something so small out of proportion. 
  • The One-Way Ticket: You could alternately take a more direct route for somewhat serious matters, which would sound something like, “Mr. So-and-so, do you have a minute? Last week was my five-year anniversary with the company and no one said anything, so I was just wondering if there’ll be any kind of review or discussion regarding my time here. I'd appreciate your feedback.”
  • The Bold But Tricky: This approach should only be considered if you’re a master of communication and absolutely capable of keeping your cool while talking about emotions. You should also be prepared for the possibility of hearing what you don’t want to hear so that you can plan to react in a suitable manner. 

This approach can be tested on friends or practiced in the mirror. If you decide to be bold and make a case for why you feel like an oversight should be righted, it might sound something like this: “I don’t understand why I wasn’t considered for this promotion. I feel that I’ve exceeded expectations and I’m more than qualified. It’s an opportunity I’ve been waiting two years for, and it’s the next level on my career path. I’m ready for the added responsibility and I’d like a chance to discuss the particulars with you. Can we have a conversation about it before the decision is finalized?”

Sometimes There's Nothing You Can Do

Whether you’re repeatedly overlooked at work or by a friend/family member, if you’ve broached the topic and you’ve been answered with genuine apologies and assurances, then it may just be time to let it go. Try not to be so sensitive and expect everyone to come to you for everything. Don’t hesitate to speak up and make someone aware of something that you expect or hope to get/hear/feel.

There are over 7 billion people on Earth and the majority of them have dozens of others with whom they regularly interact. You’re not always going to be at the top of everyone’s list, no matter how important your job is or how special you are to someone else. Being hypersensitive and self-important can be a drain on relationships. If people are always afraid of hurting your feelings and offending you, they may begin to avoid you instead of trying harder to include you. Sometimes it’s just wise to humble ourselves and “get over it.”

If, in fact, someone is sending passive-aggressive signals by excluding you from things, consider confronting them using one of the three approaches above, and take it a step further by articulating your feelings. Try not to sound accusatory and put them in a defensive position (the situation could escalate from conversation to conflict really fast) – instead of making statements, ask questions.

Give them the opportunity to be honest and forthcoming with you by remaining calm and displaying composure (in your facial expressions, voice, and body language). Have this conversation as privately as possible, and don’t insist on getting an answer right then and there. If there is an issue which is causing them to act some way towards you, they might need time or a more appropriate forum to open up.

And, if someone explains that they've overlooked you for a specific reason, remember that you're not the only one involved in this scenario and try to acknowledge and understand the information they're presenting. It may be news to you and there could be an opportunity you didn't realize before. Always listen with the intent to understand rather than reply. 

You Will Be Fine

You may be successful at fixing the problem by bringing it to someone’s attention, and you may not be. Resist the urge to resort to negative thinking and hold a grudge, because it won’t lead to anything positive. You have to be okay no matter what.

Try to think in terms of how much it really matters: is it something that’s going to make a major difference in your life? Are you going to be stewing over it for days? Will it alter the course of your life or career? There are many people who don’t neglect you – focus on them.

And look on the bright side – let’s say you were overlooked for an opportunity and you weren’t able to change the boss’s mind. You’re upset because the other candidate is younger, less experienced, and less qualified than you. Read: they cost less.

Infer whatever you want from the situation, but be secure in your belief that something better is coming to you. There’s always somewhere else to go from “here.” Brush it off and move on. You’ll be fine.