“I didn’t come from a Province or a small-time place. My education was good, got myself a few diplomas and I’ve travelled you know. I’m respectful and usually friendly. Then why did they look at me as if I was from another planet or plain dumb?”
I wish that line wasn’t as literal as I remember it to be as much as I wish I hadn’t been the one to say it but here I am, telling the story. My very first year in my very first Corporation. This one was Spanish actually, big Telco actually. By the way back then cell-phones were good for just two things: having phone conversations and playing worm games. If you’re +30 you’ll know what I mean.
That first day was tough. I couldn’t even eat my dinner with most other employees (I worked the night shift) as I had gotten so many weird looks I just didn’t feel comfortable there. Only one of them gave me a welcoming smile and that was because he was just 1 week older than me there and still didn’t feel like them. We’re still friends by the way.
I must admit that I’ve always had issues trusting people I don’t know but that never stopped me from being polite, well mannered and friendly (if a bit grumpy) as I was taught to be. It always felt right no matter how awkward I thought it was. I have always known I’m the odd duck in whatever group I’m in, but it never made me feel special or in need of more attention.
Then why did I feel the way I did on my first day when I received “the looks”? You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? It happens on your very first day. You step-in, all shiny and happy and nervous and excited about your new job, a smile in your face even though you might be a nervous wreck inside and before you take the second step all eyes are on you, weighing, measuring. Unblinking orbs of questioning, vast pools of curiosity…and some of them ready to squint and label you.
Because that’s what we all do, right? We put tags on people. Some of them are cruel ones, some just funny but it definitely is something most of us have either done at one point or keep doing.
I’ve never felt right about those but I would be lying if I said I never used one. It’s an awful thing to do, tag someone…and it’s really awful to feel you’re tagged, labeled, put away in a drawer or up in a shelf, all of it in your very first day. Sounds, looks and feels unfair but it is a common thing. Just amplify it at things get amplified when in a Corporation and you’ll feel how I felt only back then I didn’t know what I do now.
I couldn’t have thought about that back then but now I must say I know better. I can remember how hard it was, after walking the walk to my new desk with my new boss, feeling all those eyes, smiling timidly to everyone no matter how much they frowned. How could I approach anyone to ask a simple question such as “where’s the restroom” if I felt like that? How can anyone start building bridges and with whom when you feel like that?
It’s hard, I can tell you that first hand. But it is possible and not just that, it is also necessary. You’ll get worse than those looks but if you play your cards right, you can also live great moments, meet extraordinary people and develop your career further but above all you’ll get opportunities and that’s when trusting becomes really important.
So who should you trust? It is a tough question and (take this line as a short disclaimer) my answers are of course very subjective as they are based on my experience. But I figured they might be good pointers for the initiated or even the experienced ones wondering about the living maze a Corporation is.
Always trust your instincts. As Obi-Wan once told Luke: “Use the Force Luke!, let go!” and then he destroyed the first Death Star.
I bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you? Believe it or not, you will do better in a Corporation if you trust your own judgement and build your network from within. The Company might tell you what the rules are and some people might even try to become “interpreters” for you. You can pay attention to them but don’t be to quick to give your trust to someone who has all the answers and leaves no rooms for further questioning.
People who’s nice for no other reason than because they can. “It was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand”. That was Gandalf to Frodo, for all of you non-nerds out there.
I know it might sound cheesy and all but there are people out there that are just nice because they want to be, no ulterior motives whatsoever. Specially in a Corporation that sounds unlikely which makes them even more special. Sometimes even they have to make decisions, take a side or get into a fight but that doesn’t stop them from inviting you to have lunch with them, lending you their stapler or explaining you how to request something through some system. Trust them first because they chose to be nice. Trust them because they are just a few and theirs is a choice, not an accident.
Humble people. “On the highest throne in the world, we still sit only on our bottom”. That was Michel de Montaigne. What a quote, isn’t it?
Corporations feed on people’s will to succeed and it does award those who do great. There is a lot to gain if you do your job right, but you can lose it all in a blink if you climb too high too fast. In the past 15 years I’ve met quite a lot of people resembling Icarus, flying too high with wings they thought strong and fast only to find out Ego is not the best glue to hold feathers together. I guess one could say Icarus was bold, but bold and selfish look too much alike when the one flying leaves you behind so they can shine alone. I could never make myself trust anyone who would use me to shine and leave be behind.
Those who would rather listen than talk. “God is silent. Now if only man would shut up.” by Woody Allen.
One other type of person you will find in Corporations, no matter the size of the Company, is self-proclaimed Mentors or Top Performers. The very bad ones just keep asking other people to allow them to mentor or give free unsolicited advice. The very good ones pretend to be very good at listening only to answer back their own opinion that might have or have nothing to do with the original question one might ask. I’ve learnt to deal with most of them though every now and then one appears out there and gets me going. How can I trust someone who just won’t listen even if what I’m saying is stupid? You probably guessed right if you thought these people are not humble at all so there’s no trusting them if they fall in more than one category.
People who work for your well being. No quotes here, I’m sorry. But I myself will tell you this: it is hard to identify someone who’s really working for your own good. It is hard because most of the times we don’t see it, we don’t find out until something happens. Sometimes that person is your manager, sometimes is the HR person in your Company and sometimes it’s an employee that works for you. Sometimes it’s the receptionist or the janitor and some other times it is someone that’s not an employee but a contractor.
You need to pay attention. Sometimes you miss the signs…like someone bringing home-baked cookies because they know you like them. Don’t miss those, they make a difference.
Best advice I can give you is that you will need to trust someone eventually in a Corporation. It is not different to your life, so why not apply the same rules to it? Trust who you can or who you must and eventually, who you feel safe with and don’t fear making mistakes.
One great thing about trust is that only you can give it to others, which means only you can take it away too. Don’t be to quick to do neither and you’ll be fine.