Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 4

Part 4 of “Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier” continues the line of thinking from my the previous three posts (links to each post are below) and focuses primarily on staying under the radar at work and not getting noticed for the wrong reasons.

Starting this line of posts with a sequence of what not to do may seem a bit negative.  However, there is a method to my madness.  I have learned that it is extremely important to build a bank of positive impressions at the outset of a career or new job.  Negative impressions are remembered more than positive ones, and negative impressions are much more difficult to eliminate.  You want to build up a reservoir of positive results so that, when you screw up (and you will screw up), people say something like “wow, that’s unusual for Fred.”  If the reservoir isn’t deep enough, then a screw up will immediately eliminate all the positive.  The workplace is very unforgiving.

#4 Don’t offer suggestions unless you are asked.

There are really only two types of suggestions — 1) do something differently than is being done now and 2) do something else that isn’t being done now.  I also stipulate that, if you are making a suggestion, you are making it to someone else who is doing something that isn’t your responsibility.  You don’t really offer suggestions to yourself.  Suggestions or guidance you give to your own team are different and are excluded from this.

The truth is that when you make a suggestion to anyone, you are telling them they are doing something wrong.  You may try to be tactful.  You may sugar-coat your comment.  You may think you have a lot of goodwill with that person.  However, at the root of your suggestion is that the person or group is doing something incorrectly or, at best, less efficiently than possible. If we take that a step further, a suggestion is telling someone that they are stupid or they don’t know what they are doing.

It doesn’t matter if you are right .  Let me repeat that.  It doesn’t matter if you are right.  Telling someone they are wrong or stupid, no matter how tactful, is risk-seeking, not risk-averse.  It’s putting yourself on their radar unnecessarily.

If someone asks you to proofread a paper, look at a spreadsheet for errors or review a process with them, then jump right in.  If you see a flaw in a spreadsheet that could result in lost profits, missed budgets or miscast financial statements, then raise your hand.  If you believe steps someone is taking might break the law, you should also chime in.  I’m sure there are other exceptions as well.

Follow this advice.  Don’t offer suggestions and stand back and watch.  You’ll notice that work gets done, although perhaps not as efficiently as you think it should. You’ll see people come through at the last minute, which is not a work cadence you follow.  You’ll see a boss understand the problem and step in to correct it, but perhaps not as fast as you would have.  You’ll also see bosses agree to push back deadlines or change deliverables, which you may find embarrassing.

It’s amazing how things work out.  Really.  And if the customer or client is happy and the boss is happy, then all is well.  By not offering suggestions on changes, you have avoided a negative perception among others.  If you have delivered on your work and contributed to the success, then you have just added to your positive reservoir.

Offering suggestions to others proactively only has downside.  You want to establish a track record of success so that people come to you and ask for your suggestions.  That should be your goal.  This is all about getting others to put you on the radar for the right reasons and avoiding the radar yourself for the wrong reasons.

When I told Mrs. Spidey about this post, she smartly pointed out how this approach has worked on TV reality shows.  Isn’t it always the outspoken ones on Survivor or Apprentice or Big Brother or even the Bachelor than end up getting booted out first?  The ones that contribute, do their job, don’t fail, and don’t make waves are the ones that “suddenly” show up with the $1 million.  If my examples don’t resonate for you, perhaps this comparison does.

Next week, we’ll talk about volunteering for stuff.  Since you’ve read all the way to this point, you probably know where I’m headed.

Previous parts:

#1 Don’t Complain or Make Waves
#2 Don’t Talk Negatively About Anyone Behind Their Back
#3 Don’t Ask Questions in Large Meetings


6 Responses to Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 4

  1. marcys says:

    Right on. The last office job I had–and I do mean LAST; I now freelance–ended very badly, and partly it was me and my big mouth. Because I had so much experience, I tried to offer ideas. I didn’t tell other people how to do things better, though, only made suggestions for things I caould do in my job. Well, others interpreted this as me thinking the tasks in my job description were somehow “beneath” me, and I was looking to upgrade. That is partly true–I was bored. But I just didn’t know the truth of what you’re saying. You should write a book along these lines, seriously.

    • Andy Mayer says:

      I hadn’t thought that making suggestions about your own job could cause problems, but I think it does fall into the same bucket. You got on the radar for the wrong reasons and people reacted.
      Good for you that you found something that works – and thanks very much for the comment.

  2. Pingback: Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 5 « Life With Spidey

  3. Pingback: Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 6 « Life With Spidey

  4. Pingback: Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Recap of Parts 1-6 « Life With Spidey

  5. Pingback: Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 7 « Life With Spidey

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