On the Job

New Kid at the Office?

By Kenneth Bredemeier
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, October 26, 2007; 12:00 AM

When you're the new person at work, how do you prevent yourself from looking unknowledgeable on some heavily debated work issues?

That's what this new employee -- who wants to make a good first impression on his new manager and colleagues -- wants to know.

I recently changed careers and started a new senior-level job at a government agency. I was there barely five minutes when my manager gave me a 200-page report, a quick briefing and two days notice of a meeting to discuss the issue.

I panicked. I was in a new technical field and the issue that was up for discussion had been ongoing for two years. When I explained my concerns to my manager, he said that he didn't expect me to know the answers, but rather just be able to contribute to the overall discussion.

I went to the meeting and found that I couldn't contribute at all, because I was so nervous and didn't know how to. How can I perform better in the future?

It was unfair for this new employee's manager to put him in the midst of a long-brewing office dispute without proper preparation, says Sandra Crowe, a conflict resolution consultant based in Rockville, Md.

She adds, however, that short of not contributing to the discussion at all, the worker could have at least prefaced any opinions by saying he lacked the knowledge to give a comprehensive answer. "It's OK to say you don't know something," Crowe continues.

It is clear that this worker's manager has high expectations of him, she notes. Therefore, he should feel honored to have been included in such a discussion this early in his tenure. While the new position may be more demanding, the worker needs to learn how to acclimate to his new work environment in a limited amount of time. She suggests that he talk to a few colleagues and learn what they think about the issue.

By doing this, not only will the worker gain further knowledge, but he'll also get the opportunity to know his new peers, be better prepared and ready to contribute at the next meeting.

Kenneth Bredemeier has six years of experience writing about the workplace. On the Job, a column addressing real worker questions about office relationships, corporate policies and workplace law, is written exclusively for washingtonpost.com. To submit a question, e-mail onthejob@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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