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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Changing Jobs

5 Situations That'll Always Feel Awkward When You're New at Work

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On day one of my first “real” job, I had no idea what to do with myself. Around 3:30 PM, I turned to a co-worker and asked, “So, uh, what time do you usually leave each day?”

When offered the job three weeks earlier, the hiring manager told me my hours were “up to me and my supervisor.” Well, that conversation never happened, so I had no idea when I could go home.

Starting a new gig can be really overwhelming—whether it’s your first one or your 10th. There are loads of unspoken rules you haven’t learned yet, and you have to get to know a whole new group of people.

But, as time goes on, there are certain situations that’ll become second nature. (Or at least feel a little bit easier.)

1. Understanding the Company Culture

Pretty soon after starting that first job, I figured out my hours—by watching other people. My manager and the rest of the team arrived between 8 and 8:30 AM, so I started to as well. When they wrapped up a little after 4, so did I.

Others on my team would go to the doctor or pick up their kids midday and finish up work later, at home. So, I didn’t stress if the only time my dentist could see me was 11 AM. Because as long as I completed work and showed up at necessary meetings, nobody cared.

Observing my co-workers allowed me to see what was and wasn’t acceptable at my new company. Not just for my hours, but also for the dress code (my second organization was athletic-wear friendly, so yoga pants became a staple of my professional wardrobe), email turnaround time expectations, meeting etiquette, and more.

You won’t know all the ins and outs by day one, so it’s important to pay attention.

2. Saying “No”

“Yes!” “Sure!” “Absolutely.” “Would love to.” “Happy to help.”

This is my mantra in the early days of a new gig because I’m so eager to prove myself as a hard worker and a team player.

But saying yes all the time isn’t necessarily a good thing. It can cause tasks to fall through the cracks, decrease the quality of your work, and end up leaving you majorly burnt out.

And I won’t lie. Saying no can be hard. But once you learn more about your roles and responsibilities and have a good rapport with your colleagues, it gets a heck of a lot easier. You’ll be able to discern what you have the capacity for and if you’re the right person to do it, and you’ll trust that the person you’re saying no to will respect your response.

(If you’re still feeling stuck on how to do that, here are inoffensive ways to say no.)

3. Giving Your Boss Feedback

Almost every boss I’ve had has told me that, not only is he open to honest feedback, but he wants it. And each time, I nod enthusiastically and say, “Yes, yes, of course!” Meanwhile, my conscience is screaming, “Ha! Nope. No. Don’t do that—ever!” And the idea of doing it makes me squirm.

But your boss isn’t a perfect manager and a few of his processes (or habits) could likely use some work. And he can’t adequately support you and your team if he doesn’t know how he needs to improve.

And as your relationship with him strengthens, providing some constructive criticism here and there won’t be so tedious, especially when you realize how much it can help him, you, and your team. The first time will be tough, but you’ve just gotta rip the Band-aid off.

4. Asking for Help

Being vulnerable doesn’t always feel good. And admitting that you aren’t able to do something all by yourself can make you feel as if you aren’t making a good impression.

That’s not true, though. Because what’s worse: Trying to power through on your own and completely missing the mark, or requesting advice and knocking things out of the park? Answer: Missing the mark. So, ask away.

It’s tough at the beginning because, as mentioned above, you want to prove yourself. And how can you do that if you appear incompetent so early on? But, if you consistently work hard, you’ll build a good reputation around the office. And those few times you need guidance or someone to take something off your plate won’t feel all that bad.

5. Advocating for Yourself

Whether it’s asking for a raise, inquiring as to why your boss took you off a project, or defending yourself when someone throws you under the bus, sticking up for yourself is crucial–at work and in the rest of your life.

“When you confidently put your needs and views forward, people will listen,” explains Lea McLeod, Muse career coach and author. “And no matter what happens because of that difficult conversation, you’ll know you’ve made your best effort to resolve a difficult and frustrating situation, and you’ll have a much clearer idea of how to move forward.”

I know this seems intimidating at first. But as you start to find your place and become more confident in the work you do and the employee you are, you’ll feel more empowered to speak your mind.

Can you see the trend here? As you begin to feel more like an insider at your new job and less like an outsider, those situations that seemed awkward or even a little frightening will become no big deal.

Unfortunately, there’s no exact equation to when you’ll feel at ease with each one. But I can guarantee you that they’re all worth the time and initial discomfort.

What other work situations get less tricky over time? Let me know on Twitter!