Success almost always starts with being new. To achieve our career goals we join new organizations, get promoted into new groups, and accept transfers to new cities and countries. We’re often new with every re-organization and re-structuring, and every time we travel to meet new customers or attend conferences. Outside of work we’re new every time we take up a new hobby or sport, or move to a new neighborhood. It’s hard to take advantage of new opportunities without putting ourselves out there, meeting new people and trying new things.
Over the past 20 years I’ve been studying the newcomer experience, trying to understand the difference between newcomers who quickly become productive, integrated members and those who find themselves less effective and connected than they had hoped to be. I’ve interviewed and conducted surveys with hundreds of newcomers, and have asked dozens to keep diaries of their first few weeks on the job.
Through my research I’ve found that success in new situations is often based on our confidence and ability to perform five key behaviors:
If we’re reluctant to introduce ourselves to strangers we will rarely build the networks we need to be productive and successful. If we rely mostly on the internet and own knowledge to get things done (instead of asking the experienced and expert for advice) we learn slowly and make little progress. If we wait for other people to approach and build relationships with us (instead of taking the initiative) we often remain on the periphery. If we worry too much about performing well and avoiding mistakes we seldom take the risks required for creative, bold action. And it’s hard to maintain positive relationships with people if we can’t remember their names.
Consider these the “punt, pass, and kick” skills of not only being a successful newcomer, but an impactful leader, teammate and group member. In many situations I’ve found that new leaders often fail not because they were poor leaders, but because they were tentative, awkward, isolated newcomers.
Sadly, few of us have been taught to perform these five newcomer behaviors well, or have spent the time to reflect upon or practice these critical interpersonal skills. Given that we’ll be performing these activities thousands of times over the rest of our careers, getting better and more comfortable doing them offers long-lasting benefits.
Here are a few ideas that can help increase your confidence and ability in each skill:
All of these skills can be improved through reflection and practice. The key is to enter new situations excited by the prospect of a good experience rather than worry about the possibility of a bad one.
Note: This is adapted from my new book What to Do When You’re New: How to Be Comfortable, Confident and Successful in New Situations. Now available in Barnes and Noble bookstores nationwide as well as online in the usual places. Visit the book website and read Chapter One for free.