Work Place Lessons.

These lessons are drawn from personal experiences while working in the software industry. They can be extrapolated to other fields and team settings as well. There are some very obvious lessons that people learn while working. I am skipping some of those and including the ones that were more recent and struck to me like a hammer on a nail. 

1) Learn to shut up – In the age when experts cannot stress less on being more communicative and to speak up one’s mind, I have realized it is equally important to know when to stop talking. Many a times, we tend to repeat the same information over and over again, albeit in different words and sentences without adding much value to the conversation. We also tend to jibber jabber a lot, give out more information than required and might not even realize that it was kind of stupid when weighed by the standards of an intellectual conversation, if at all it was one.  This quality is much more important to cultivate in a professional setting. It is important to attach weight to every word you speak and make sure it adds to the quality of the conversation. If it doesn’t then I think it is better not to speak. And if the person(s) involved are also not bringing out any qualitative discussion, refrain from such conversations. That is just a waste of time and mental bandwidth. This may sound very harsh and too strict, but this is also one of the difficult habits to cultivate which definitely contributes positively in the long run. Being able to keep a check on oneself during conversations and on the type of conversations you are indulging in are essential in shaping your mental faculty as well as personality. Every person will have their own individual definitions for a quality conversation. It is time to find yours and then to stick with it and of course improve upon it over the time. 

2) OK you nailed it! Now move on!– We all have our Eureka moments and its definitely encouraging and gives a moment of adrenaline rush. Okay, sometimes it lasts for more than a moment. But now, don’t feel smug just because one thing that you predicted/proposed came true or worked well. Just learn from it, improve and move on! I don’t mean that don’t feel proud of yourselves. But don’t roll in it for too long and shift you focus back on what you were doing without losing too much time. Leave all the laudatory comments for others to make for you. 

3) You don’t need to explain it- Many a times, we are caught in situations where we find ourselves explaining our actions, thoughts and/or words. Sometimes those explanations might work wonders and solve the problem in hand. But not always! Your explanations will work better when the other person understands your premises and is willing to open-mindedly analyze what you are saying instead of beginning with a prejudiced mind. You need to decide whether you really want to explain yourself. For your rational actions and thoughts, rational people won’t need explanations and irrational people won’t understand it anyway. So make your choice and save your time.

4) Be Specific – As important as it is to know when to shut up, it is equally helpful being specific in conversations, presentations, emails and any such correspondence. Especially while presenting results, proposals, estimates even for a very basic idea, coming up with some numbers and specifics always bolsters up your idea or opinion. That also shows that you are thorough and clear in your thinking and you are taking the idea seriously. You can judge for yourself that which of the following samples would you prefer when you have to make a decision or to get interested in a discussion:
  • a) The above listed idea is likely to improve the team’s efficiency a lot and if implemented can save us many man-hours. It is easy to implement and is cost-effective. 
  • b) The above listed idea has a potential to save 10% time of each team member resulting in a saving of 4*5(Assuming 5 is the team size) 20 man-hours per week. The idea can be implemented using Python language for which we already have expertise in our team and hence it won’t be incurring any additional costs.

5) Sphere of influence –  So you are on the junior side of team membership. Its the beginning of your career and you think that maybe you should first listen to your seniors, learn the work and then proceed from there. But believe you me, that “beginner” phase could last for a while if you don’t step up! There is definitely something to learn all the time. But you also need to work on expanding your “sphere of influence” around yourself. Thats right, its called Sphere of Influence. Have you really thought about what impact is your work generating in terms of say revenue, cost-cutting, improving efficiency, contributing to new products, design, team-work and so on. You get to work every morning, finish the assignments, maybe even work on a couple of your own ideas. But how is your work perceived? How is it affecting your team? More importantly, how MUCH is it affecting and who all is it affecting? That is the sphere of influence. I totally agree that each role could have almost a defined sphere of influence. But that is what you need to work on expanding. Suppose you are a developer working closely with other developers and the product team to develop a new product. Your work impacts your development team, your product manager, your QA team (if there is one) and probably your customers too.  But have you tried to interact with the marketing team or the sales team or directly with the customers to understand what exactly do they need? What if you could bring on that “something extra” to the table and are able to benefit a larger audience? Sometimes this could mean taking up on additional work. But that will definitely help you in the long run by adding new skills, demonstrating your initiative taking ability and leadership qualities and improving the present skills as well as relations. Who wouldn’t want such a player in their company who can always bring that”something extra”! But again, don’t push too much and leave people alone if they don’t really need your services!  

6) Effective Communication – Sometimes we have some bright ideas or there is a question burning within us during a meeting or a presentation. But we hesitate to speak up. Its a very common problem that many people face and they prefer to remain quiet and let the curiosity fade away. Never stop yourself from asking questions, good or bad, or to express something that you feel is relevant and worthy to think about. But the problem here is, we don’t think that our questions are good enough to be asked or our idea is good enough to be thought about! We feel scared of being judged. We take the quote too seriously-” Rather remain silent and be stupid than to open you mouth and remove any doubt” Who cares whether someone thinks you are stupid or not? Would you put more emphasis on what others think about you or fueling your curious mind and give yourself an opportunity to learn, think and improve? 

7) Always have a demand for yourself –  Given the state of the economy, this one becomes a pretty important lesson. Constantly working on your skills and adding new ones will keep you “in demand”. Finding another job if you have to, shouldn’t require you to take a Navy-Seals training program just to prepare for the interviews. You should be on-the-go. This remains true no matter where you are in your career. Whether it is to get that promotion or to make a big leap into that dream job of yours in your dream company or to find a job that you love or just to quickly find another one in case of a layoff. Being in demand helps every situation. 

8) Work on your own projects –  This point could act as a follow up with the previous point. Working on your own projects could be a hands-on way to learn something new and also to improve upon what you already have. Keep reading those technical blogs, contribute to non-profit groups in your field, contribute on forums or maybe just help friends with their projects. These activities usually lead to a win-win situations for everybody. So if you haven’t started yet, then wait no more. Start small and spiral it upwards. Begin with reading blogs and forums and slowly start contributing by asking questions or answering some. Think of a new idea and think on how you could develop on it. It could be a new business or a new app, a new side project at your work or maybe even your new blog! Just keep it coming.

9) Work Life balance – Another one of the toughies! The domain of the zen! But in reality, its NOT. Its more to do with your mental makeup than actually being unable to bring the balance. As they say, once you conquer your mind, you can conquer anything. So how many times have you come back from work thinking you would finally read that book or hit out to the gym or cook a healthy meal or spend some real quality time with your friends and family but instead ended up thinking -” Oh I am too tired. Lets do it some other time” and heated some frozen food, watched some mindless sitcom and went to bed? Sounds too much like your routine? Well, it IS a routine. And before you realize, you would have spent most of your evenings this way for years together! All you need to break the rut is to tell yourself that as your mornings are devoted to your career and work, your evenings are devoted to work on your own self and you should never be too tired for that! You work on your self could be defined by you. But if you hear yourself giving this excuse of being tired from work way too many times in a week, its time to take notice and analyze if you really are that tired. Its a clear sign of lack of motivation and you need to work on it asap! Also another reason creating this imbalance is your habit of bringing work home. You have eight hours in the morning to do it. Once in a while, it is okay in the face of a crucial deadline, but if its a habit, you might want to look into your time management skills and efficiency. 

10 ) Being Aggressive –  In a good way and not in physically pushing your colleague if he/she doesn’t agree with you! A certain level of aggression helps in all spheres of life and pushes you in achieving goals faster. Making things happen is a much desired quality rather than waiting for them to happen or let them happen while you sit and watch. Transforming into a sloth is much easier than to be the hare who hops around all day. But these days, the hare is also the one that wins the race, assuming it didn’t go to sleep in the middle. Aggression could relate to taking the initiative, grabbing those opportunities that come across your way, shooting that email without procrastinating, asking that question instead of pondering for half a day whether you should ask or not and many more situations big and small.

There is lot more to learn and continuously being aware of your environment and looking at it as a feedback loop can enhance your thinking and personality to remarkable extents. Equally important is being introspective and take some time to analyze your own self both in terms of your professional as well as personal life. We anyway spend one-third of our time at our work. With that significant chunk of our time going there, better make sure its worth it.


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