Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen. - Winston Churchill
New hires struggle with the question of when to show what they know and when to refrain so as to avoid sounding like a know it all? This is an important question to consider as there are times when it’s important to recognize your limitations as an unseasoned new hire and then there are times where your instincts will be correct and you should voice your suggestion. The trick is being emotionally mature enough to intuit when you should listen more than you talk, when to ask questions and when to interject your opinions. You might not get it perfect every time but being aware of this tension will help you think before you leap into a conversation just to hear your own voice. Having good social intelligence will help you manage your reputation so you earn the respect and approval of your colleagues and co-workers.
The general rule of thumb is that regardless of age or experience, whenever someone is new to the workplace it is much better to ask questions to learn why something is happening than it is to offer opinions when you may or may not have the necessary facts behind the opinion. Stephen Covey gives great advice: seek first to understand, then to be understood.
When you do interject your point of view, I suggest you begin with an open-ended question, such as, “I noticed xyz. Can you please help me better understand xyz? Why is this occurring and what are the factors behind it?” Keep inquiring until you fully understand the issue and its background. When someone seeks first to understand, they demonstrate wisdom, humility and respect and generally become more likeable in the process. You will also acquire an appreciation for your employer’s perspective. When you practice these techniques you’ll build credibility and avoid coming off as an arrogant know it all.
Once you have an understanding of the background tied to a situation you can then offer your input; “Has anyone ever tried an approach xyz? What happened? What do you think about that approach?” And so on.
The relationship you have with your supervisor will also be a factor in when and how much of your opinions you should offer. If you have a supervisor who is very open-minded and views you as more of an equal rather than a subordinate, you will have a much better chance of having your viewpoints heard and accepted. Whereas, if you’re a new grad and your supervisor is someone with a more traditional, hard-nosed approach to management, he or she may not be as receptive to your opinions. You need to assess your relationship with your manager and find ways to help where you’re not stepping on his/her toes.
If you know you have a real solution to a problem that no one else has yet offered, take a risk and voice your opinion. Ask for feedback so in case you have overstepped your boundaries, you’ll tred more carefully the next time and maybe hold back. I’m not suggesting that you become overly passive in this process! I am proposing that you make sure when you talk, it’s for a reason and that you’re either trying to improve your understanding of the business or you’re providing a viable solution to a pain point the company’s experiencing.
Tune into your manager’s body language and look for verbal cues to assess whether your contributions are being well received. The more attuned you are to problems your hiring manager faces and the better you gauge when she will be receptive to your suggestions the more likely you’ll get noticed for being a valuable asset to the firm. Be sensitive to your managers stress load. There are times when no matter how helpful you’re trying to be and no matter how great your suggestion is, you’ll be shut down. This often occurs when an employee pushes an idea at the wrong time; If you push an idea at a time when there are other more pressing, immediate issues that the manager is addressing you may end up branding yourself as a nuisance and out of touch. Be sensitive to the work atmosphere and share at a time when your ideas will be heard and when your manager isn’t distracted. The more adept you become at figuring out solutions to acute problems and delivering the message at the right time and in the right place, the sooner you’ll be rewarded with a promotion and a salary increase.
Beth is Founder and President of Get Hired, LLC. She advises students on how to bridge the gap from school to career. Beth is the co-author of From Diploma to Dream Job: Five Overlooked Steps to a Successful Career. Her coaching assists students and career changers to successfully match their needs, interests, passions, skills, and personal goals with the needs of a sustainable industry in a sustainable location. She is a resource for print and online media and offers workshops for University Career Service Departments, Executive Recruiters, Outplacement Services, College Guidance Counselors and College Alumni Associations. See website for more details about Beth’s services www.fromdiploma2dreamjob.com. Beth’s Webinar was sponsored by George Washington University’s Career Services Dept. for their worldwide alumni association: Leverage Your College Diploma. You can follow Beth on twitter @BethKuhel