• Eve Arnold

5 Tips For Starting Work on the Right Foot

Starting work is hard graft. These 5 tips are simple but often overlooked.

Photo by Zack Minor on Unsplash

“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.” ― Alain de Botton

In my opinion there are five core skills to master before you even contemplate finding your dream career. Without these skills mastered, you may very well end up in your dream career without even realising it. So what are they?

  1. Learn to communicate well — Understand your audience, listen to them, make it clear what you want from them.

  2. Build relationships — Cultivate relationships and concentrate on others.

  3. Be Kind — No you do not have to be a total dick to win in work.

  4. Get your mindset right — Understand that the story you are telling yourself affects everything.

  5. Become self-aware — Know who you are and what you stand for.

Willie King was due for surgery the very next day. He was a heavy machine operator but once he was made aware of his heart and diabetes problems, he had to quit. He was a father of three and enjoyed the quieter life. Happiest when fishing. Nothing was particularly out of the ordinary of King. King was due for a surgery, the procedure? The removal of his right lower leg. A huge surgery but not out of the ordinary for someone like Willie. The diabetes had meant that he had lost good blood circulation down there and it needed to come off. Amputations are disturbingly common amongst diabetics, according to the American Diabetes Association, worldwide, a person loses a limb due to diabetic related issues every 30 seconds.

Willie, unfortunately, was one of those people.

All was well on the day of the operation. Rolando Sachez, the surgeon in charge of the procedure had a lot of experience under his belt so King was in safe hands. Sachez did all the routine checks that day, checked the blackboard and the surgical report for the details of the surgery. Tick, tick, tick. King went under and the surgery began. It wasn’t until mid-way through the procedure that the operating staff realised something was catastrophically wrong.

A nurse came in crying, shaking her head and at that point Sachez realised he’d been amputating the wrong leg. Already half way through muscle tissue and nerves, the damage was done. Sachez had to continue on with the surgery and break the news to King that they had in fact, severed the wrong leg.

Years later, Sachez told the hearing examiner that both the blackboard and the medical report had mistakenly detailed the amputation of the left, not the right leg. However, the patient’s surgical consent did have the correct information detailed. Yet surgeons were not required to check the patient’s consent prior to the operation. The blackboard and medical report was sufficient.

It was the basics that went wrong on that day.

Starting work and being new to the working world is both an exciting and daunting prospect. When I think back to my time as a newbie to the world of work I cringe with embarrassment. The reality is you are new to the world of work and you are going to have to figure out the way to do things and that will probably mean messing up from time to time. Luckily, I presume your line of work won’t mean cutting off the wrong leg. But there is something to learn from Sachez and King, it’s often the basics that we get so tragically wrong.

So what are the basics to the working world? What is our corporate equivalent to checking the patient consent form? Well it’s as follows:

1. Communication is Hard — Repeat Yourself, Repeat Yourself Often

Communication is difficult. Actually perhaps more accurately, communication seems to be the root of a lot of problems in the workplace. You learn that pretty quickly upon starting work. Saying what you want to say isn’t hard, you just say it. However, people hearing what you said, in the way you thought you said it, that’s the difficulty. Communication can go wrong is several different ways:

  1. Someone could misunderstand what you are asking

  2. Misunderstanding what the goal is

  3. Confusion over who’s doing what

Where communication goes wrong, people get angry. Very angry. Work on getting your communication skills up to scratch. Test different methods, try telling a story.

2. Focus on Relationships – Starting Work

Starting work is the time when you realise that people are the key to getting stuff done. People will be the difference between getting what you want done and not getting what you want done. A person is at the end of every phone call, every query you have and ultimately, any job you interview for. Building relationships is probably the most important skill to have in the workplace. If you focus on cultivating relationships you won’t go far wrong. Building relationships is a fine art. It’s work, so everyone knows that if you are ringing or emailing them it’s for a reason. There is clearly an agenda. And that’s fine, that’s not a secret, it doesn’t need to be a kept secret that you are ringing someone to ask them to do something for you. Be open about your request but ask questions along the way.

Not every interaction needs to start with “Hi I need this”.

People love talking about themselves. It’s a trait quite a lot of us have, if someone asks you one question about your passions in life, you could chew their ear off for a whole hour. A lot of people love to talk about their passions in life and are not often asked about them.

3. Be Kind — It Costs Nothing

It’s the first thing we learn in school and first thing we let go of as we enter the working world. TV will tell us that you have to be cut-throat and ruthless at work but that’s because TV has the job of dramatising life. You can win at work by being kind and you’ll feel 10x better about yourself along the way — which is also important.

4. Work on Your Mindset — The Difference Between a Good and a Bad Day

Starting work is hard no doubt. In life there are few things we can control. The weather we have no control over, somebody’s mood is quite difficult to get a handle on and we have no jurisdiction over the way people drive — although sometimes that would be nice. The point is that there are many things not in our control. However, there are many things that.

Hard as we might try we can’t make it sunny when it’s pouring rain. The one thing we can control is how we view the world. When it’s raining are you letting it get you down or are you dancing in it? Life can be hard, and there is no substitute sometimes for a good old cry and down days are always going to happen. However, if you are always looking for the bad you can’t see the good. That will mean you can be in the best job in the world and always think there’s something better.

5. Self-awareness is Absolutely Pivotal – Starting Work

If I was to give one piece of advice, just the one, for anyone starting work, I would say this. Forget everything else and work on becoming as self-aware as possible. Spend time working out what brings you the most joy and what you can’t stand. Have some hypotheses about what you think you will enjoy and test them out. Figure out if you like to teach, sing, dance, data, creativity. There are so many jobs out there, when you are new, if you want to figure out the career for you, you need to test lots of different things.

Figure out what’s important to you. Not just the surface stuff like money, of course that’s important but over a certain amount it won’t give you anything. Figure out if you need work-life balance, if you want to make a difference, if you want to tell stories. Only by testing and looking introspectively will you be able to figure out what you ‘thing’ is.

Work is hard, starting work is harder. At the start you will inevitably get this wrong and mess up. There are though, some basics that if you pay close enough attention to, things won’t go catastrophically wrong.

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