New Kid at Work? 5 Strategies to Become the Ideal Coworker

Jul 09, 2013 - Joe Matar

Coworkers can be a blessing and a psychological obstacle course. As a new graduate, you’ll likely thrive in the first year of two of your brand-spanking new and exciting role by learning the ropes and quickly acquiring new skills. When in the newbie trenches, you’ll likely develop some of your strongest friendships of your career.

On the other hand, many wet-behind-the-ears recruits—just like you!—are quickly exposed to the realities of workplace cliques, backstabbing, political jockeying and personality differences. You only have to watch one episode of The Office to appreciate that every day in company-land can be a dizzying and challenging minefield.

Work can suddenly go from insightful and enjoyable to uncomfortably competitive. You could even say it's like a return to a warped version of the high school lunchroom. Cliques, favorites, geeks, Alpha and Beta wannabes, the studiously shy, teacher’s pets, gossip drones, queen bees, jocks and more are present in the hallways at work.

Thankfully, with these psychological strategies, there is hope for you, the determined grad or ambitious apprentice, to deconstruct your coworkers’ mental space and beat your coffee-run nemeses at their own game:

1. Get to work before everyone everyone else does

This hugely underutilized tactic can win you points in the early days and help you get to know how your colleagues operate.

Arriving early not only makes a good first impression, but also shows you who else in the team has the same forward-thinking mindset. You’ll learn who’s the dangerous workaholic, sending emails late at night with urgent deadlines. And you’ll discover how much you can get done solo when there are no distractions that are a primary drain on productivity.

2. Learn the 16 Myers-Briggs personality profiles

This can win you major career psyche points at work. Myers-Briggs is a popular form of psychometric type indicator (MBTI) based on different personality types. It's how some recruiters whittle out applicants and get their preferred choice through the door to second interviews. And it’s how some managers build a balanced team.

There are 16 personality types formed from the following mix: extrovert, introvert, thinking, feeling, judging, perceiving, sensing and intuition. It’s worth investing in an introductory copy of a Myers Briggs manual to dissect which type belongs to each of your colleagues so you can effectively “speak” their mental language.

3. Stand up to bullies by providing solutions to the problems they cause

Soon enough you'll figure out which particular coworkers will moan and gossip or use passive-aggressive methods to deal with work projects, requests or management issues. These negative behaviors tend to quickly spread dissent and make new and established employees feel uneasy and unhappy. The lesson here is to choose your allies and nemeses wisely.

Best give these people a wide berth and take their misgivings with a pinch of salt, because at the end of the day, you don’t really know what their underlying agenda is or how it may affect you. It’s wiser, if far braver, to take stock of a situation at hand.

If you have the courage, then seek to assertively voice your opinion, along with a solution, to the right person at the right time to manage expectations. This skill will gain you the grudging respect of less proactive colleagues and even signal that you're fast-track promotion material due to your clever problem-solving and good judgement.

4. Show empathy and cut your coworkers some slack

There’s a time to gripe, and there’s a time to cut colleagues some slack. Coworkers are probably having just as bad and as stressful a day as you are, with 30 other unspoken frustrations. A supportive chat or few minutes grabbing coffee together means you can get to know them as a real person, and not as that next-door cubicle automaton.

This strategy can also leave you forewarned. You can “read” their mental issues far more accurately in advance of certain client commitments, tasks or situations. Plus, they could help you back your bid for professional growth. It’s worth building emotional bonds for reciprocity and future gain.

5. Perfect your storytelling skills

These days, storytelling is considered by many in business to be the ultimate weapon in building a personal or professional brand and spreading a powerful sense of persuasion. The art of winning over colleagues to your mindset and perspective can be as easy as telling good stories daily, because it will always seem like a gift.

Storytelling functions by telling your agenda over theirs. This strategy sneaks your message into the fortress of their minds. Coworkers will become your friends, fans and followers and turn to you for guidance. They will develop a respect for your wisdom, intelligence and insights. Game, set and mental match to the grad who perfects the skills of memorable stories.

Laura Abrar writes about technology and marketing. She developed her career in public relations and communications with global leading and challenger technology brands, as well as in digital marketing for firms in the United Kingdom. Connect with her on Twitter at @LauraAbrar.