When Starting a New Role, Mind the Vernacular

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Landing in the whirl of a new work environment can be an overwhelming experience. With a quick influx of people, projects and information — it may feel as if you are trying to gain balance while the ground shifts beneath you. Regaining some measure of stability and establishing a “new normal” is important for newcomers, as they can quickly lose their way. Managers can support them by staying close at the outset, and remaining attuned to their work life needs/goals longer-term. Newcomers should doggedly seek clarity to help them move forward. This includes the finer points of their new environment.

As we all know, teams are essentially micro-cultures with developed mores and operating principles. The simple notion of “How the work gets done around here” can be filled with nuance and confusion for newcomers. One area to consider carefully, is the vernacular used to communicate vital information about the work.

As many of us have learned when entering an established group, understanding what is being said — and what lives between the lines — is vital.

What to do as a newcomer:

  • Look around. Consider if you have landed in a group of individuals that are similar to you, or if you are from a dissimilar industry or background. Do you bring a novel area of expertise? Do you come from an industry/organization where the culture might be vastly different from your new environment? Answering these questions may alert you to the potential for a language disconnect.
  • Explore the language. People have a way of “talking, but not talking”. They may express one thing, attempting to appear one way (such as flexible and forgiving) — yet their behavior might reveal something else. Consider the case of deadlines for example. Be sure to clarify what specific phrases such as “Get to it when you can”  or “This is a priority” truly mean to this group.
  • Watch for cultural cues. The operating “language” of a group can also dictate how they communicate when facing problems. For example, environments can vary in both their “directness” and speed to correct a misstep. This ultimately affects your feedback loop. Some cultures will be quick to address a problem. Yet, others may let you languish.
  • Set the tone. What you personally require communication-wise to remain effective is also important. If language seems to be getting in the way, take steps toward clarification. While you may not be able to change the vernacular, it may help you personally to bring clarity and avoid stressful situations down the road.

Have you ever misunderstood the vernacular in a new role? What happened?

Dr. Marla Gottschalk is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist. She explores challenge and change in work life. A charter member of the LinkedIn Influencer Program since 2012 — her thoughts on work life have appeared in various outlets including Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Quartz and The Huffington Post.

 

 

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