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What I Learned From Trying To Be a Team Player For 2 Years

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    jen chan
3D image of people working in an office

I used to write a lot about work, equality, ideals and other snowflakey puppies and butterflies. In the past I have given too many shits about coworker happiness. I'll analyze a situation endlessly to reflect on my motivations, fears and the group dynamic, but I realize it's more of a grovelling exercise instead of a way to self-improve. LinkedIn and AngelList makes it seem like the only acceptable attitude for a job applicant should be entrepreneurial, competitive, and self assured. Well I'm going to be Brené Brown about this and then resolve to harden my nose like Taylor Swift.

Here are some things I learned to in my short, twice terminated, second career thus far:

1. Imagine leaving the company in a better place than when you joined it.

Most people advised to "think about the paycheck" when a position gets rough, but as a solution-oriented type I find the longterm idea of micro-improvements a bit more romantic. Figure out your responsibilities and impact and focus on that.

2. Overriding positivity and humour in times of extreme stress never hurts

Maintaining a calm and positive attitude is difficult. I try to imagine how this is going to blow over and become forgotten in months, how there will be more tricky scenarios, how a task or customer just needs babysitting or an action plan to remedy. A lot of saves are team dependent and all that matters is how you react to it because that affects other members.

3. Listen carefully

Find out what your coworkers value and what they don't. For example, there's no point in offering detailed copy-editing or creating content if corporate identity or brand stories aren't important to your company. Low excitement for your suggestions? Move on to the next.

4. It's better to over-communicate than to under-communicate

Being clear and explicit goes a long way in teams that are multitasking a ton. If no one is responding, then either your communication style need to change or people are too busy to respond (or deliberately not responding), which could hint at a larger problem...

5. If you get negative feedback, apologize and move on

It's better to de-escalate the tension than let resentment build up. Follow up by asking how you should do something or resolving not to do something again. Assume your team members have positive intentions of making things more efficient and easier for everyone.

6. Find and create measurable goals

Otherwise I wouldn't be able to attest to my impact or even the need for my position at the company.

7. Use your connections; test them sooner than later ;)

This sounds sociopathic and extrinsically oriented, but you don't know who's around to help at work and even after. Is this peer a quid pro quo transactional person, just nice on the job, or so kind and empathic they're a lifelong mentor? Actions say everything. This might not work for you; maybe you're ok with steamrolling onto the next gig alone. As an empath and late onset extrovert, I thrive in a community where people don't keep score on favours and have a genuine interest in working together or helping each together. (! I have also felt the same about the glitch art community)

8. Be eager and enthusiastic, but don't prostrate yourself

I understand this is incredibly hard for newcomers, but people pleasers are insufferable and I was one. The complete suppression of my own individuality for agreeability and selflessness will lead to an imminent psychic breakdown. The harder I tried, the more schmoozy, insecure, and suspiciously careerist I appeared. Measuring your self worth by coworker happiness puts you in an extremely vulnerable position.

9. Whatever you do, don't complain. Be assertive, but don't complain.

Note: for something severe like harassment, it makes sense to complain. Liz Ryan talks about many management styles being fear-based, resulting in advice like this. But this just seems like a plain ol' optics. Anything but the sunniest continence will give you reason to be dinged. Voice your needs in meetings once or twice if something is blocking you, and start hunting if nothing changes. If someone is routinely taking credit or throwing you under the bus it's strategic to privately check in with them and see if it can be resolved than bring it up to management. Again--optics. No one's got time to deal with junior squabbles.

I'm no seasoned office worker but this is all I gather. I welcome anyone to challenge my points or add further insights!

Those of you in your new and seasoned careers: what have you learned over time?

Also my reflections are all coming from the position of a young-looking light skin outspoken East Asian woman with on and off imposter syndrome, so take it with my grain of salt. Your mileage may vary.