If you’ve ever brought a new cat home and introduced it to your old cat, you were probably met with wrath and feline fury. Chances are, your old cat was defensive and eager to protect its turf. Maybe it stopped hissing and hiding eventually, but the first few weeks were probably pretty tense.
When you join a new company, this same sort of standoffishness can unfold just beneath the surface-level pleasantries. At first, the people you work with might not be sure what to think about you and may see you as a threat–even if they don’t consciously recognize it. But there is a way you can assert yourself when you’re new to your job, and do it in a positive way, without causing the claws to come out. It all comes down to how you speak to your brand-new coworkers. Here’s are four speaking strategies you can’t afford to forget.
1. Only Bring Up Your Past Experience To Help Solve Current Problems
One common pitfall is talking too much about past experiences. Yes, what you’ve done before is relevant–it’s partly what got you hired– but you don’t want to start too many sentences with, “At my last company…” If you do, people might start to feel like there’s part of you that wishes you were still working there–not an impression you’d want to make in a new role.
To be more strategic about leveraging the insights and experience you picked up in your old job, you first need to build connections with your coworkers based on the challenges you’re all working together on right now. Show that you have a clear understanding of the current situation, and then weave in your experience. For example, let’s say your new company is discussing the lack of flexibility in the software it’s currently using. Don’t come right out and say, “At my last company, we used software X, and it was much more flexible.” Instead, say something like this: “Flexibility is certainly important when it comes to software like this. I know from my experience that there are other options out there that could give us more flexibility.”
2. Ask Lots Of “Dumb” Questions
What’s worse than asking a dumb question? Not asking and missing out on important information. Yes, you want your new colleagues to think highly of you. But asking questions–even those you think might have obvious answers–shows that you’re engaged and ready to learn. New hires are usually told to ask away whenever they’re not sure of something unfamiliar, but few actually take that invitation wholeheartedly. Don’t miss your chance–not just to figure out how things work around the office but to break the ice with your new coworkers. “Dumb” questions can also be jumping-off points for establishing relationships.
3. Don’t Hesitate To Probe (Politely) For Information
When you start at a new company, you’re always going to encounter a degree of skepticism about your abilities, even if it’s never directly expressed. People may be unwilling to open up about their projects or other details that you might want to know, but building trust with your team and getting them to open up to you is critical.
While you don’t want to be confrontational, you do need to probe to get the answers you need. Not sure how to answer questions in a diplomatic, non-confrontational way? There are three steps that can help you do it perfectly: Align with your listeners, bridge to their concerns, and then ask for their thoughts (here are a few tips breaking it all down). Let’s say you’re in charge of a group that’s been tasked with cutting production costs. You learn that your new team was successful in some areas but unsuccessful in others. They seem to only want to discuss their successes, but you obviously need to understand the failures, too. So you could frame your question this way:
1. Align: “I understand that you’ve done a great job cutting costs in those areas, and you certainly deserve recognition for that.”
2. Bridge: “But as you know, I’ve been tasked with helping you cut production costs at a much higher level.”
3. Question: “So, what do you think we could do to improve the areas that weren’t as successful?”
This approach legitimizes your coworkers’ feelings and allows you to probe for more information without being too confrontational about it.
4. Sync Up With Your Company’s Work Rhythms
Every company has a cultural “rhythm.” Some work cultures move fast, while others are more thoughtful and deliberate. In your first few weeks, it’s crucial to tune into that and adapt. But in order to figure out your company’s (and especially your team’s) typical rhythms, you need to establish a neutral baseline. It’s actually pretty simple–it just depends on how and what you communicate. For instance, rather than just saying to a coworker, “Great, I’ll email you back in a few hours about that,” ask, “When do you need me to get back to you?” Let others set the tone so you can get a feel for how they work, rather than just falling into your own usual work style right from the get-go. Matching the rhythms of your colleagues will help you connect with them on a deeper level–and more quickly.
When you join a new company, the first few weeks are critical for establishing yourself. Of course, you want to make an impact, but you’ve got to do it with tact. By using these strategies, you will build a solid foundation that will set you up for success.