When Shouldn’t You Listen to Your New Co-Workers?

Remember that first night after Christmas when you were a kid?

Your reward for being good all year (or, at least, being seen as less-than-horrible in December) sat right there beside you as the stars twinkled outside … that new doll or Transformer or videogame system.

Where was that toy the next time Christmas Day faded into darkness?

Rare is the thing with lasting attraction for us human beings, and so it goes with new jobs.

But, man, doesn’t that New Job Feeling feel good? You’ve survived the grueling (and, too often, demeaning and unprofessional) interview process and been deemed The Chosen One. You have a new desk and new colleagues, and everyone is just so dang nice to you. They might even take you out to lunch — and pay for it!

It’s often at that first lunch that the shine starts to wear off. While you might be new to the team, they’re not. So your “welcome” lunch might get run over by the “let’s talk bad about your new colleagues” train, which seems to gets rolling pretty quickly.

Nothing is a greater turnoff to a new employee.

Think about the juxtaposition of this next to the interview process. While the company was trying to woo you, no one had a bad word to say about anyone. Surely you asked about the culture. And what did they tell you? It was great! Collaborative! Friendly! Supportive! Like a family!

The latter at least is somewhat true, because everyone loves to say mean stuff about the annoying branches of the family tree, right?

If you’re not wise, by the time the lunch is over and you head back to the office, things have changed. The luster is gone. And hey, your resume is still quite fresh, so…

Bottom line: Never judge a new colleague by what your co-workers (or even your supervisor) say about her. Time and again, I have been force-fed a welcome-to-the-company meal of another person’s angst about someone, only to realize that the someone is not that bad.

As a professional, new employee, make sure those who are doing the force-feeding know you’re going to be making up your own mind about people. Yes, be appreciative of their input and take it as one source of input. But also understand that what’s really going on in these situations is not unlike what happens right away in the TV show “Survivor.” It’s alliance-building in the workplace, and it’s an ugly thing.

The truth is, yes, some people are not good fits for the company, excel at alienating their co-workers and shouldn’t have the job they do. But if you’re going to reach that conclusion about someone, do it based on your own experiences. And then, hey, here’s an idea: Be kind to that person anyway.

The reality is that we are all products of our past to some degree, and we don’t leave that past or our disturbing present at the office door. That person everyone’s saying is mean and angry has an abusive husband at home or lost his son just after he was born. That person who is seen as snooty is really just introverted and just wants to do his job and go home, read a book and recharge. That doesn’t give those folks an excuse to be mean or to hurt the team, but perhaps it gives you an excuse to be nice.

Too often, the workplace resembles middle school, and middle school wasn’t fun for anyone. So why do so many people work so hard to replicate it as adults?

Here’s the deal: If someone is bad at their job and their poor performance affects your ability to do your job, by all means, make a judgement.

But then find a solution.

Sometimes that’s a direct, face-to-face conversation with the person, a conversation that is focused solely on “How can we make this work.” Other times, that means seizing an opportunity to talk with that person’s supervisor about the challenge you’re facing. And sometimes it means finding a work-around to minimize the impact this person has on your productivity.

Never — never — does it mean gossiping behind his back.

And how do you know if it’s gossiping? Easy. I’ve seen this happen more than a handful of times. If the person were to walk into the room, would you quickly shut your mouth? If you would, don’t open it in the first place.

Most of us do better work in a positive, productive environment in which people respect what we do. All of us have legitimate gripes about someone we would rather not have to work with. None of us has the right to stack the deck against anyone to a new employee.

And all of us have a responsibility as new employees to make up our own minds about our new colleagues. Take other people’s negativity as input? Sure. But never, ever let it determine your opinion about another person.

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