So you got that job? Well done – all your efforts have reached fruition and now you can look forward to a long life reaping the benefits and eventually die happily in your sleep.

Well, perhaps not, when you’re about to start a new job you know this means new challenges. The particular challenge I’d like to discuss here is that of fitting in to your new workplace. It will take you time to work out the style of social interaction. I had been thinking about the approach I generally take to these situations and whether it was really that advisable. This passage from a book I picked up due to this question sums up that approach pretty well:

mug from .thabto.co.uk

Don't drink from this mug though

At work you can find prescribed ways of behaving within a specific organisational structure that includes heirarchy, rules, regulations and norms. How you talk to your boss, how frequently, which channels you go through on what topics is something you must learn by watching others. How friendly are people with each other? How much contact goes on amongst your peers? What are the topics of conversation? How much competition or collaboration does there seem to be?

Fitting In: how to get a good start in your new job, by Natasha Josefowitz and herman gadon.

The advice is all good but boils down to  keep your head low and only do what you see others do. That might be a bit of an unfair summary of the text but its a fair way to summarise the way many less assertive people behave in these situations and its for these people that I question this advice and say the opposite could be true
  • step outside your comfort zone and start off with your best foot forward!

after all, its the way we start which creates the foundation for our future habits. This means taking the effort to talk to people even if you would find it easier to keep to yourself. This means going to lunch because you’re starving even though people seem to be working straight through. It even means making yourself a cup of tea during your break even if you don’t know where to find the sugar or teaspoons or whether you’re drinking from someones special cup.

If you don’t make the effort to get familiar with the people and the space you are in danger of staying a stranger. You’re establishing your habits and the way in which people respond to you. While its your first day within this group of people, its also their first day with you and they’ll be curious about what you’re like as well. If you keep your head down, you may find people responding to that before you get a chance to change their impression. If you make the effort to talk to people then they will be more likely to approach you in the future.

There is a middle ground to stand in or a line to walk here – while you don’t want to over-conform you also want to fit in. 

Remember, you’re going to be one of the people who build the culture of your work place and so you’re input and quirks and style are valid. By all means observe and learn but be careful about suppressing your own creativity and personality.

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