Whenever you enter a new environment—whether it’s a job, a classroom, or a social event—you have to learn the acceptable and appropriate behaviors in that setting. Especially at work, it’s important that you learn to fit in, and there are some strategies that you can employ to ensure that you know how to do the things that are expected of you.
Observation: Pay attention to the other employees, especially employees with jobs similar to yours. Notice what they wear, how they solve problems, how they communicate with one another, and how they interact with the supervisor. Observation activities can help you understand the level of formality that is expected and where to go (or who to ask) when you have questions.
Questions: Newcomers are typically welcome to ask questions as no one expects them to know everything about the organization, its goals, and its procedures. The type of questions that newcomers ask can be subdivided into three categories: direct, indirect, and third-party questions.
Direct questions are the most obvious type. Newcomers can ask direct questions when they are given an assignment to make sure that they clearly understand what is expected of them. For example, if a newcomer is asked to produce a comparison with a competitor’s product, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask a series of questions about the level of detail required in the comparison, including questions about topics such as cost of production, wholesale or retail sales price, performance indicators, marketing strategies, potential market share, relationship to other products, and so forth.
Indirect questions are a bit trickier to describe, but this method of learning about the organization typically occurs in general conversation when newcomers cautiously steer the conversation to a topic about which they are interested. For example, a newcomer may wonder how strictly the organization adheres to deadlines, so instead of asking a co-worker a direct question, he or she might ask “Do you think we can complete this project in time?” The answer to that question—which could vary from “Don’t worry about it” to “We have to get it done on time!”—will provide an answer that can guide the newcomer’s behavior with regard to deadlines.
Third-party questions are those that are asked of someone other than a supervisor or other primary source of information (which might be a mentor or assigned team member). An example here would be a situation where a newcomer has a friend or relative who works for the same company, but in a different department, and that person becomes a resource for information about work procedures and policies.
Testing: The final mechanism I want to bring to your attention is testing—meaning testing the limits of acceptable behavior or actions. This can be a bit risky, but it is often more acceptable in a newcomer who isn’t yet expected to know all the rules and conventions that govern behavior. Basically, this is a situation where a newcomer does something a bit differently than what was expected—for example, adding graphics to what would typically be a text-only report—and seeing how people respond to that action.
When you combine these methods, you will gain insider information about the organization where you work, and this will help you understand not only your role in the organization, but how well you can adapt to organizational expectations. Every job you get will not be a perfect fit, but allow yourself some time to learn about the organization and its expectations before you decide whether or not it is right for you.