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Posted: May 22, 2013

Best of CoBiz: Five ways to avoid blowing up your new job

Walk softly and keep your big mouth shut

John Heckers

The time from final interviews, negotiations and offer until the end of the first 90 - 120 days of the new job are times that are fraught with land mines. Here are a few of them and how to step around them gingerly.

Kaboom! Your mouth. What and how much you say can doom your new job or, at the very least, destroy your credibility. Here's how.

1). Talking too much. Most extroverts talk way too much. Talking too much gives you an immature and "breathless" appearance. Reduce the number of words spewing out of your mouth by at least 50 percent. Learn to make your words count by saying little and nodding sagely.

2). Saying too much. Not only does talking too much make you seem immature, but it opens your mouth wide enough to insert your foot. You might give away negative information about yourself or your family, insult someone, or otherwise say something inappropriate.

3). Spouting ideas for change. So you've gotten to the new job and have nine million ideas for how things could be made better, hmmm? Great. Keep them to yourself or risk not getting offered the job if you're in final interviewing phase or losing the job if you've gotten the offer or started.

Big Kaboom! Your behavior can blow things up, too.

1). Kissing behind. Over-complimenting or otherwise trying to get on the boss's good side can get you a reputation as a...ummm...behind kisser. This can be the kiss of death amongst the colleagues whose good will and help you'll need throughout your tenure at the company, but, especially, in the first few months on the job.

2). Going after Brown. Every company has a "Brown." He's the guy who has been there forever and actually does very little. But he is sacrosanct. Who knows? Maybe he has photographs and negatives. Or maybe he's just seen as a company institution. Mess with this guy at your extreme peril.

3). Making sudden changes. Companies don't like change, regardless of what your superiors tell you. The nature of companies is to change slowly in some areas and not at all in others, unless there is a clear crisis that impels immediate change. In any case, unilateral changes impelled by you are not going to be well received and will probably give you the attractiveness of a four-day-old corpse. Chill on the changes.

4). Taking sides. As Thomas Jefferson, in his inaugural address (3/4/1801), said, you should be friendly with all but have "entangling alliances with none." Choosing sides right away can land you on the wrong side. Keep aloof from the political intrigues of the company and play politics the best possible way - by just doing your job and staying above the fray. While this strategy can't last forever, it works well at first.

So how can you walk through this minefield safely?

1). Understand that companies have a culture. That culture is not going to change for you. Revolutionary moves don't work in companies. Cultures change in an evolutionary manner, if at all. If you're wise, you'll work with the flow of evolution rather than trying to change things in a revolutionary manner - even if you're the new CEO. You need to adapt to the culture, not visa-versa.

2). Make suggestions quietly and infrequently. Make sure that they don't require your superiors to do very much differently, or go against engrained company values, regardless of how messed up those company values may be.

3). Shut up. In the final interview and offer phases, keep your big mouth shut unless you're required to say how things will change under your regime. Even then, talk about small and evolutionary changes, not huge ones.

4). Don't criticize existing employees of the company, even if the bosses do. See these people as someone's kid. They can say bad things about their kid, but woe betide anyone else who criticizes their kid. Keep this policy until you've been on board for at least 120 days.

5). Listen. Spend your first 60 - 120 days listening and learning about your new home. Find out where the land mines are located. Search out the tender spots. Find out what subjects to avoid and what is safe to broach. Build trust and make friends and supporters. Even then, proceed with extreme caution and in an evolutionary manner. These tips will assure that you settle in well and have a long and prosperous career at your new company.

John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC was an Executive, Relationships, Life and Spiritual Coach in Denver with 30 years of experience  helping people with their lives, relationships and careers.

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Readers Respond

Great advice, John! As a new hire it's hard to resist the urge to voice your opinion on everything from the coffee to the corporate culture -- after all, that's what they hired you for, right? Wrong! As you wisely suggested, stepping back and getting the lay of the land (and the potential land mines) can help you avoid Career Kaboom! By Julie Hansen on 2011 01 26
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