I’ve always been fascinated with how new members of groups try to find a way to fit in with the existing group members. I’ve spent years observing—and participating at times as a new and other times as an established member of the group—how the new folks try to fit in as well as how the existing members try to either find a place for or keep out someone new.
Over the past several months I’ve had the pleasure of watching this group dynamic play out in my own home—and most interestingly the subject of the attempt to fit in is Lola, our newest dog. Lola has taught me a great deal about what works and what doesn’t work when trying to fit into new surroundings and with a well established group.
Some Background Prior to Lola’s arrival, our household consisted of Debbie, my wife, Mr. B.J., a six year old miniature Dachshund, Ms. Chloe, a seven year old miniature Yorkie, and myself. As we acquired both dogs as puppies when they were only about 8 weeks old, our little family unit has been together undisturbed for six years.
Some readers may remember how B.J. and Chloe would work the neighborhood looking for treat handouts from our neighbors. Since we have moved to a new home that is located only a block away from a very busy five lane street, B.J. and Chloe no longer have the freedom to canvas the neighborhood and are confined to our house and the backyard. Although they have adopted well to being restricted to just our property, with the more limited room to roam, Mr. B.J. has become more protective of his turf.
B.J. and Chloe are extremely close. Since B.J. joined the family as an 8 week old puppy, he and Chloe have only been apart from one another on a very few occasions. When they are apart from one another it is obvious that they miss each other—at times to the point of refusing to eat or do anything until they are reunited with the other.
Along Comes Lola Last April Debbie and I decided to go to Nashville on vacation. Since there were some places in Memphis and Dallas Debbie wanted to visit also, we decided to drive instead of fly.
We were staying in the loft of an old 19th century barn that had been converted into a one bedroom apartment. The barn was on a 10 or so acre property where the large main house had been turned into a bed and breakfast. The property abutted a larger property whose barn was on the fence separating the two properties.
When we arrived we discovered that the owners of the bed and breakfast had rescued a beautiful 5 year old Golden Retriever named Lola from her unfortunate circumstances next door. The owners of the other property had acquired Lola as a puppy 5 years earlier for their son. It turned out that the son didn’t like nor want the dog, so instead of finding a more suitable home for her, the folks simply put Lola in a fenced in area next to their barn. There she stayed—without access to the barn—for five years, being fed and visited only on occasion. She endured hot, humid summers and freezing cold winters outside with no cover, no companionship, and nothing to comfort her.
When the owners of the bed and breakfast realized the situation, they asked Lola’s owners if they could take her. They rescued her and gave her a home in their barn. They gave her plenty of food, took her to the vet where they discovered she had heart worms which they began treating, and gave her daily attention. But they knew they couldn’t keep her; they had to find a good home for her.
And then Debbie and I showed up. It took Debbie about 30 seconds to realize that since we drove and could, therefore, take her home with us, Lola had a new home.
During the week that we were there we spent a good amount of time with Lola. She proved to be a great, sweet dog despite her 5 years of solitary confinement out in the elements.
Lola Comes Home On our trip back home our attention turned to concern about how Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe would react to Lola. Would they accept her after they realized that she was staying and not just visiting? Since Lola hadn’t been around other dogs how would she react? Were we about to introduce total chaos to our stable and well established household?
We arrived home late in the afternoon. Debbie stayed in the car with Lola while I went into the house and had my reunion with the dogs. We then switched and I stayed with Lola while Debbie went in and greeted the dogs. Both dogs were excited to see us as we knew they would be . . .
then their little world was turned upside down.
Lola came into the backyard.
As expected, Mr. B.J. became very defensive of his territory.
Chloe was curious—but apprehensive.
Lola was excited to come face to face other dogs.
B.J. growled and yelled. His antics didn’t seem to faze Lola.
Lola immediately decided that Chloe was her new BFF and tried to smother her with attention which Chloe didn’t like.
As we were afraid would happen, Lola got off on the wrong foot.
Rejection Starting that evening and for the next several weeks Lola tried her best to fit in with B.J. and Chloe.
When they played, she tried to join in. She was summarily rejected.
At breakfast and dinner she tried to share their food. She was quickly put in her place.
She tried to use their pillows and blankets and was told in no uncertain terms that she wasn’t allowed.
Her only companionship was Debbie and I, but she never gave up trying to break into the B.J./Chloe clique.
Submission Within a couple of weeks she decided the best route to acceptance was submission. She took her behavior cues from B.J. and Chloe—and those cues were basically, “stay away.”
She would meekly approach one and they would either snap at her or turn and walk away.
She would try to lie on the floor next to one and would get a paw in the face for her trouble; she would then head off to find a place by herself.
When one of the dogs would bark at her, she’d roll over and whimper. One would think that Mr. B.J. was the one who weighted 90 lbs. and Lola was the one who weighted 13 lbs.
Lola Stands Her Ground Slowly Lola tired of the treatment she was receiving from B.J. and Chloe and began to assert herself.
Instead of meekly approaching them, she began to confidently insert herself into their play.
At breakfast and dinner when B.J. growled, she growled back.
When she wanted to lay on one of their mats or curl up with one of their blankets and they objected, she ignored their threats.
When B.J. barred his teeth, she barred hers. They never fought for she discovered that in truth Mr. B.J. is a classic bully—he’ll yell, scream and threaten, but when stood up to, he goes turtle and begins to cry.
Acceptance As Lola began to assert herself and demand to have her place in the home, Mr. B.J. and Ms. Chloe began to accept her as a part of the family.
The more Lola claimed her rightful place, the more respect and acceptance she received.
Lola has been with us for 9 months. She still isn’t as close to B.J. and Chloe as B.J. and Chloe are to one another—and, of course, she never will be. But she finally demanded and received her place in the home.
B.J. isn’t as patient with her as he is with Chloe. Chloe still refuses to be Lola’s BFF.
Lola still is learning how to relate to other dogs. She tries hard but is still clumsy and often tries too hard.
But a great deal of progress has been made.
Lessons Learned So what does this dog story mean to humans?
I’ve seen this same situation worked out in sales forces when a new salesperson joins an established group of sellers.
The same dynamics take place. The established group tries to ostracize the newcomer either out of fear or jealousy while the newcomer tries to figure out how to fit into the group.
Most of the time the newcomer tries to win acceptance through acquiesce—hoping that by meekness and being as unobtrusive as possible the group will find a place for them. Most often they experience the same result that Lola experienced—they remain an outcast.
A good number of these newcomers will eventually tire of outcast treatment and begin to assert themselves at which time the group seems to begin the acceptance process.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen far too many newcomers simply accept their outcast status. They never learn how to assert themselves and demand acceptance. A great many good sellers will end up leaving the company because they don’t feel that they fit in.
Managers: understand how important it is that you help your new sellers fit into the existing group. Find one of the leaders of the group and seek to get their help in bringing new sellers into the group. Make sure you keep an eye on how new sellers fit in and encourage them to assert themselves and to insist on taking their rightful place within the group.
Sellers: ultimately it is your responsibility to work your way into the group that you are joining. Understand that there will likely be some resistance to accepting you. Likewise, understand that if you allow yourself to be dominated and pushed aside, that very likely will happen. You must stand up and demand to be let in—yet at the same time you certainly cannot come across as egotistical or a jerk.
Many managers ignore the problem their new sellers face when joining an established sales team. How the new seller fits in will have a significant impact on both their sales efforts and their longevity with the company.