Dave Conrad: Remember, it’s not all about you

October 12, 2018

Dear Dave: I am starting a new job with a new company. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to do what I do best and I know it. My last job was with a company that really struggled to stay afloat and I am glad I got out of there before things really got bad. My goal is to use my skills to move up the ladder in my new company. How can I best make use of what I know to get management positions with more responsibility? — C

Dear C: First of all, congratulations for landing your new role and for finding work that will allow you to use the skills you developed. It is always exciting to start new jobs and it is even more stimulating to start a new job at a new company that really needs your experience and education.

However, I would approach this new opportunity with your eyes and ears wide open and your mouth closed. I am not saying that you should not speak when you see opportunities to say something of value, but I would first focus on getting the lay of the land — how things are done and who does what — before coming in and trying so hard to make an impression that may turn people off, or cause you to make mistakes, stumble and fall.

When I was in sales and marketing, we had a credo that we always tried to stand by — “you are only new once.” This means that you have one chance to make a first impression, and trust me, your co-workers and bosses will be judging you closely to see what you are made of and what you can do. Of course, there may be a honeymoon period where any mistakes that you make will be forgiven. But, some companies and management may keep this time frame of grace very short.

Be smart and listen carefully. And, make it apparent that you are listening closely. If you are given instructions or orders that you do not fully comprehend, ask for clarification. If you are handed tasks that you are just not ready for yet, mention that you need more information — even more education — so you can do things correctly. And, when various people – that may not have formal management roles, but are very influential — talk about work, roles, the company culture and “how things are really done around here,” make sure to tune in and let these people know you hear what they have to say.

The people make the difference

Remember to never break this rule: do not act like you are in it just for yourself. The true test of your success will be your ability to fit in, be effective and “work and play well with others.” Your coworkers want to know if you are someone they will enjoy working with. Accordingly, be kind and be present when dealing with your peers or management. Instead of only being negative, look for the good in situations and experiences, instead of spotting only downfalls and errors. And be kind and even compliment your coworkers when they do something well. Be genuine and authentic when doing these things, so you don’t appear to be phony or manipulative. Trust me, your fellow employees will take notice of your taking notice.

If you are complimented for something you did well, be humble, but be thankful. I think we all know people that spend their whole day trying to get a pat on the head. It may be a self-esteem issue they are dealing with, but it is somewhat repulsive watching these folks pant like a lap dog when they are close to their manager, and yelling, “Hey, look at me!” I think the best workers just do their job, take care of business, and move on to the next task. I am not saying that these “completion-oriented” employees are better people; I am just stating that they work hard and work with humility.

The power of a kind word given to someone should not be understated. The best teams do not bring each other down — they pump each other up. Your ability to express gratitude to someone that has just made a mark, and did a job well, will gain you more influence than a thousand strict commands. I’m reminded of the saying, “People may not remember exactly what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.” This is so true, because — at the end of the day — we do, without knowing, create mental inventories of what happened that day and who said what to whom, and how they said it. Be careful. People are sensitive.

I think you get my drift. Be a colleague people want to be with and think with. Be supportive, be natural and be realistically-positive. You do not need to become best friends with your peers, but you do need to be friendly.

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