In the last 10 years, I have had the pleasure of working for two major aeronautical companies, a highly esteemed contractor firm, and a small family owned software company with big dreams. Working in coffee shops and the food service industry as a teen, I served up lattes, salads, and sarcasm to loyal customers and passers-by. I’ve worked alongside retired Navy Admirals and Captains. I’ve had the honour of helping active military achieve their objectives in large and small-scale projects.
Whether you’re working with interns or PHDs, administrative assistants or Vice Presidents, no matter what their role or background, or even their work ethic, three words of advice ring true for all people in the workforce: Just Be Nice.
1. It Is Not Hard To Be Nice
Respect your superiors and learn the lessons they have to teach. Be kind to your peers, they are going through the same challenges you are and have equal if not more stress upon them. Most of all, be nice to anyone who makes your working conditions better, be it the administrative assistants, the waitress at the restaurant where you eat lunch or the office janitorial staff.
There is absolutely no reason to not treat everyone with the same respect and courtesy.
2. Be True to Your Word
If you agree to something, do it. Stick to timelines. When you commit to a deliverable by a certain time, get it done or communicate quickly and efficiently if there are hiccups. Other people are depending on your word to complete their tasks, so don’t commit to something you can’t complete.
The safest bet is to “Under Promise, and Over Deliver.”
3. Get By With a Little Help from Your Peers
Ask for help. If you don’t know how to do something, but you know your peers do, reach out to them and leverage their expertise. By working together you are sharing knowledge and getting the task done faster than trying to painstakingly figure it out on your own. Personally, I feel the most accomplished at the end of the day when I’ve been able to help with other people’s challenges. Just don’t forget the lesson you learned as a 5-year-old, and always say please and thank you.
4. Lend a Hand
Speak up in meetings, offer advice, and jump at the opportunity to share your expertise with your peers. Collaboration and teamwork mean more resources available to solve problems. Managers and leaders appreciate when their employees share ideas and opinions in the workplace since they hired them for the skill set they brought to the group.
Don’t wait for the invitation to contribute.
Take the time to step out of your particular job description to learn a new skill, and help a peer get back on track. Cross-training is beneficial for covering your co-workers when someone is out sick or if the workload gets to be too much. The added benefit is if you take the time to help someone, they will be there to help when you need it later on.
5. Manager Expectations
One of the trickiest things to do in the workplace is to manage your manager’s expectations. You want to impress and show your value, but sometimes don’t fully understand what your manager wants you to do. Every once in a while it works to take a little information and roll with it, but often times, the time spent guessing was wasted because the end result wasn’t up to snuff and had to be redone entirely. The best advice is to set aside ample time to meet with your manager to discuss all requirements of the task at hand. Ask meaningful questions until you are clear on what their expectations are.
6. If You Can’t Say Something Nice…
Everyone has seen Bambi right? “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” All of us get frustrated now and then. I am definitely guilty of this. Keep in mind that your peers (hopefully) are trying as hard as you are.
Patience and understanding are useful not only in your personal life but in your professional life.
If and when a flameout occurs (and we’ve all been there), only say things you wouldn’t mind saying to the person’s face.
7. Over Communicate
In all relationships, business or personal, communication is key. Communication is only the first piece of the puzzle, comprehension, and acknowledgment from all involved parties is the rest. If you only ever use email, you are at the mercy of different individual’s response time, and the assumption that your message was understood as intended. If there is an urgent matter, pick up the phone and call. Emails are useful for paper trails on complex tasks involving multiple people. Instant messenger can be great for catching people quickly to get immediate answers, or for sending that timely and perfectly relevant emoji. If all else fails, remember the method of communication before Outlook and IM…
8. Watch Your Wording
No matter the communication format, watch your wording. The written word can be interpreted a lot of different ways. To avoid sounding gruff or angry, avoid excessive punctuation or capital letters. Even if you are excited or enthusiastic, the grammar and structure could be perceived as anger. Even if the issue being addressed in the email is urgent, take the time to say “hello” and “thank you” before hitting send. Scan all correspondence for grammatical or spelling errors before sending it off, show the recipient that they are worth the time for a little spell check.
9. Apologize When You Screw Up
Excessive pride doesn’t help with anything at work. Know your worth, but don’t be too prideful to admit when you are wrong, and apologize when you mess up. Your peers will appreciate the honesty and situational awareness and will respect you for it.
10. Dealing with Grumps
Every group has its share of grumps; the person who doesn’t communicate well, or get frustrated or angry easily. Learn how to read a situation and the temperament in the room. If possible, find common ground that you can relate on. Sometimes people are gruff in the workplace and softies once they walk out the door. Try to find a way to “bridge the gap” between the two personalities to make collaboration in the conference room an option. If all else fails, I have found that grumpy people typically respond well to sarcastic comments and perfectly timed Mel Brooks quotes.
General Human Decency
As weird as this section may sound, it is worth mentioning. Smile at your Co-workers in the hallway. Make eye contact and tell them “Good Morning.” Staring at your feet, or your phone gives off a message that you are closed off from the world, and not willing to communicate. The aloof or pompous behavior makes for an awkward exchange at the coffee pot.