Newcomer Woes

tumblr_mo162sDqoL1s2sa9ho1_1280Like many other graduating students who will be joining the workforce, we will soon face the common predicament of integrating into our new workplace. This is a phase of our work life that can be quite daunting. Let us explore why.

leadIntegrating into a new workplace… why is it weird?

new_guy-770358First of all, it requires one to negotiate a new identity. Coming into a new office where nobody really knows who you are or who you claim to be and vice versa, you don’t know who anybody else claims to be means that other people don’t know what to expect from you and you don’t know what to expect from them. Trust is not yet established and therefore the ability to predict each others’ behaviour is low. This makes the process interesting yet alienating at the same time.

new-employeeAdditionally, there are the unwritten rules that manifest themselves over time and form part of the culture or subculture of the organisation. They underscore the ways of doing things in a manner that you have possibly not encountered before. It might seem bizarre to you but normal to the rest of your colleagues who are already accustomed to such established norms. The implication is that this could make it difficult for one to respond or behave in a way that is sensible to your new colleagues even though you may find the opposite much more obvious.

Here, I would like to emphasise that I am coming from the perspective of the individual (ie. not how organisations can better help newcomers to integrate). The focus is on how, we, as prospective newcomers in a highly demanding workforce, settle into our new environment where the employer may not help us to inculturate, for instance, by telling you about the organisation’s values and vision. This post is not going to be a set of tips on how you should learn as much as possible about who hired you. Rather, I would like to touch on something a little more delicate.

How to figure out what you’re not being told?

efeff4edb5210ab70b546c57fb507d5312d8e3c5cb13d8f93e391be6f2dc99a1How many of us have made mistakes at work because we were not informed of a specific detail? It is often extremely tempting to cry out “Hey! Nobody told me I couldn’t do this… or that…” but you very well know it in your best interest to keep this to yourself, keep your head down, lest other people judge this even more so as a sign of incapability. Understandably, what you don’t know would not logically cross your mind so that your brain can tell you to attend to the mysterious and elusive matter in question. Yet this is a tricky and touchy problem that many people face… including myself of course.

I recently chanced upon an interesting article written by Art Markman who is a professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. He reveals how can you know what you don’t know? A little preparation and reading between the lines reveals the truths you aren’t being told.

He claims that important information is often omitted in everyday conversations and sometimes, complex problems. I would also like to add that sometimes we may not take note of this because we are preoccupied with other concerns. As such, we need to learn to recognise if important information is missing and that there are some measures we can take to detect what is not being said.

1.       Prepare for conversations

Similar to having a sense of the appropriate solutions to problems, we also tend to cultivate an understanding of the scope of conversations with other co-workers. For instance, you begin to get a sense of what information you need and when you can offer back similar information. To prepare for conversations, prepare a mental checklist of the information you need and consider who you will be talking to. Could they possibly have any motives for holding back any of the information you need? Or if it just so happens to slip his or her mind, prompt the other party by asking questions or steer the conversation in directions that get you what you need.

2.       Bring a list

It can be hard to remember to get all the information you need in the heat of conversations. A physical checklist of questions to be asked and matters to deliberate will be useful. Take notes and ensure all the issues have been covered. This ensures that the key points of the discussion will not be forgotten after the meeting or conversation.

3.       Bring a friend or a colleague

Sometimes we might fail to pick up on information being omitted as we tend to focus on fitting the information being given in ways that align with our agenda. Bringing a neutral third party such as a colleague gives you the advantage of a second opinion from an objective viewpoint.

4.       Ask what else you need to know

People who omit information intentionally typically believe that it is more ethical than lying about it. At the end of an unproductive conversation, ask the other person whether there is anything they have left out or anything that you really need to know. This simple question could potentially change the person’s mind and fill you in on what has been left out.

At the end of the day, we can only strive to keep in mind that sometimes information is omitted. We can do this by making it a part of our work processes to find out what we are not being told and subsequently take the necessary measures.


Helping newcomers integrate into a workplace, Dan Cable:

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