Get your mind right
Reflect on your story, strengths and accomplishments: Many bright people are so driven that as soon as they accomplish one thing, they are on to the next challenge without taking a moment to reflect.
Take time to reflect on your strengths, what you’ve accomplished and the obstacles you have overcome. This will help you build confidence and resilience: if you overcame hurdles in the past, you can do it again. Knowing your story reminds you that nothing is permanent; hard times do not last forever. Reflect on the situations and people from your past and determine what meaning you attach to them. You can’t change the past, but you can change how you interpret and feel about it. Think about the role you played in situations and how you could be different in the future.
See your differences from the majority as an asset: Think about how your gender, race, religion, age, etc, is an asset to your team. Think about the unique perspectives that you can bring because of your difference from the majority of people in the company. Spend time thinking about how you can leverage your attributes to add value to your working environment.
Invest in yourself and master your craft: When you know that you know your subject matter, you have the confidence to speak up in a meeting, to engage with a client or a customer, to push back on a colleague or raise your hand for a challenging assignment. Be a lifelong learner who is constantly upskilling. Take advantage of online and internal learning opportunities. The world is ever-changing, so focus on staying relevant.
Live a healthy lifestyle: Being a healthy person helps you bring your best self to work. Regular physical exercise releases endorphins that reduce pain, increase pleasure and elevate your sense of well-being. Exercise also reduces stress, helps you sleep better and, importantly, helps keep your mind sharp. Building your physical strength and pushing yourself physically helps to build up your mental strength and confidence. Find some form of physical exercise that you can commit to doing consistently. Getting enough rest helps to improve your memory, makes you more alert and boosts a positive perspective that assists in decision-making. Drinking plenty of water lifts your mood, reduces fatigue and helps with managing your weight. A balanced diet helps to energise you and builds up your immune system.
Do your due diligence: We often assume that others are just like us, want the same things or will automatically know what we want. We tend to play this game of assumptions and wait until conflict or tension arises between ourselves and others. Wouldn’t it be better if we had conversations upfront to communicate what each person needs and wants so that we could be more intentional about how we interact?
Be accessible: This may sound like an obvious point, but in order to build a relationship, you have to be available – quite literally – for those conversations. You have to work on your relationships with your colleagues, which means you have to create space and time for you to get to know each other
Be curious, and listen: We often use our time to share something about ourselves, but sometimes we need to ask questions and learn about others. A good tip to building great relationships at work is to show genuine interest in who your colleagues are: where they come from, how they got to where they are now and what they care most about. We celebrate those who can string words together eloquently in TED talks or on social media, but we rarely celebrate the skill of listening.
Grow your empathy: Being able to understand the context, situation and associated feelings that a person has is critical to building rapport and relationships with others. Empathy, like any skill, is something that you can develop. Start by practising empathy in small ways. When starting a new project, take a few minutes and put yourself in the shoes of your teammate or manager. Think about the context of that person’s reality, all that the person is balancing and feeling, and how your work fits into that person’s overarching goal.
Developing your cultural intelligence
A big part of your role as a new hire is to understand the culture more deeply and understand how you can fit into it in an authentic way. You were drawn to your chosen company’s brand for a number of reasons. In addition, the company has been operating successfully enough to be in a position to hire people for many years – if not decades – and there is a reason why. Now is the time to peel back the layers and learn what makes this organisation tick.
There are the values that every company lists on its website … and then there are the ways in which they play out in reality. To use an analogy: when you’ve just met someone, you would not like that person to tell you everything that they think is wrong with you. In general, it is better to approach people with their strengths in mind. Companies are the same. Focus on the positive, what is working, why this company or brand has been able to stand the test of time and weather various economic and global storms. There is something that you liked about the company and it made you want to join. Focus on those elements and dive deeply into them so that you can appreciate how the company operates.
Building your personal brand
Branding is not a one-size-fits-all exercise. You don’t have to be someone you are not. For example, if you are an introvert, there are ways to cultivate your brand that resonate with your preferences. The same is true for extroverts. You don’t have to build your brand in the same way as others do, and they don’t have to follow your lead either. Branding differs from person to person. It’s not about copying someone else, but rather about finding a way that is authentic and sustainable for you. The first steps that you can take to market yourself are to determine what you want your brand to be, assess your current brand and then create an action plan to close the gap between the two. And, as with anything, you will have to assess the effectiveness of your branding and make adjustments as you go along.
Branding yourself is much like marketing a product. Imagine that you devote your entire career to researching, developing and manufacturing the world’s greatest product, something that could save lives. If you don’t talk about the product – what it’s made of, its benefits and how to access it – no one will ever know about it. In other words, awareness and communication are key.
Communication is key
One of the first steps in improving your communication skills is to understand what communication is. But let’s start by saying what communication is not. Communication is not just about saying whatever comes to mind. It is not about waiting to respond while another person is talking, formulating in your head what your next point will be. Neither is it about winning an argument. It is not about being right. It is not about manipulating, cajoling or strong-arming the other person into agreeing with you. It is also not about saying what you think people want to hear. Instead, communication is about being deliberate about your tone, choice of words and body language so that the other person receives your message and you receive theirs in turn. And this involves the ability to listen. If you are not a great listener, then, unfortunately, you won’t be an effective communicator either.
Communication is one of the key building blocks for creating psychological safety on a team. This term, coined by Amy Edmondson, is defined as a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking. Psychological safety, Edmondson argues, creates an environment where people feel accepted, can ask for help, suggest innovative ideas and bring up problems and tough issues without fear of negative repercussions to their credibility or career advancement. As a member of a team, you play a role in creating psychological safety by how you communicate. Researchers are finding that psychological safety may be the most critical driver in building successful, innovative teams.
You are not a blank slate, and your belief on communication is your starting point for moving forward. Unpacking your approach and mindset on communication will give you insight on what areas of your communication style and mindset you need to leverage as a strength and which ones might get in the way of your being an effective communicator.