Are you helpful?

I have often been told that I am a helpful colleague. I mostly attribute this to my roots – Pakistan is a collectivist nation and helping someone out isn’t uncommon. Then again, I emigrated over twenty years ago and have effectively spent most of my life in a Western European culture which endorses individualism.

Is being helpful necessary? No. Is it rewarded? Sometimes. Can it take time away from your own to-do list? Possibly. Does it elevate your personal brand? Most certainly!

How can you be a little more helpful in the workplace?

  1. Consider putting yourself forward for an assignment which supports your peers or manager but doesn’t necessarily fall under your scope. You will learn something new and position yourself as an enthusiastic and reliable team member.
  2. If you don’t have capacity to help, explain that you would like to but cannot afford to because of reasons x, y and z. Be sincere in your communication.
  3. Work late if it helps to achieve a greater objective like a project deadline even if you aren’t leading the project.
  4. Offer to provide coverage for colleagues on holiday and do a great job on their behalf.
  5. When others help you, thank them for their kindness and return the favor in their time of need.

What to avoid ..

  1. The line between being helpful and a doormat is a fine one. Know when to draw limits. You want to balance being helpful with commanding respect.
  2. Taking for granted situations where you are helped by colleagues both below and above your pay grade.
  3. Being helpful is great but making false promises doesn’t help to manage expectations. Only offer what you intend to deliver.
  4. Overstretching yourself to the point of a burn out or resentment. At this point you have defeated the purpose of helping and it’s working against you.
  5. Helping can be perceived as interference or your intentions may be questioned especially by those for whom being helpful isn’t second nature. In these cases, try to understand the scenario and personalities you’re dealing with before offering a helping hand.

Me, myself and I will only take you so far. Eventually, somewhere, you will need to lean on someone for support. Before this, you want to ensure that you have created a positive image among your colleagues, sufficient goodwill in the workplace and have led by example using the priceless four words How can I help?

What’s your path? 10 lessons from mine to yours

I vividly remember the excitement and pressure of making that single, well-informed move in my graduating year. After earning two Masters degrees from reputable universities, I [felt that I] was expected to know exactly what the right next move was, which companies I needed to apply to and the job title I had to show off as testament to the value I was bringing to the job market. What made it slightly more challenging for me was that I had a dual background in Business and Journalism. Was I going to dedicate the next 5-10 years of my life as a Marketer at a multinational or would I become a writer at a publishing house?

Today, I am proud to say that my route the last decade has been dramatically different to my peers and while not without struggle, it taught me a LOT and exposed me to different countries, unique company cultures and various personality types. It also allowed me to cleverly blend my skills in ways I couldn’t have planned.

So what was my path?

My path wasn’t as straightforward as study hard, graduate, get a job offer and stroll into a well established corporation. For starters, I graduated from my second masters at the peak of 2008’s recession (Note to self: Recessions don’t care about qualifications and degrees). Secondly, being a native English speaker, my opportunity pool in The Netherlands was much, much smaller. And third, I simply didn’t know that I was expected to think competitively with a clear picture of at least the next five years at the get go.

I must admit that I was also naive. For example, to this day I’m appalled that at the time, an internship to me meant just that: 3 – 6 months of work experience. I didn’t have the foresight to realize that an internship was a foot in the door to my future at a company. Similarly, I didn’t pursue a traineeship. I realized much later that traineeships carry more promise. An intern is more likely to be underpaid or not paid at all. Under a traineeship, an employer has a vested interest in you and is seeing you as a value add to their future equity.

In 2009, after a series of internships and freelance work in what seemed like the longest year amid a recession, I took a risk and relocated to London not knowing anyone and to no job waiting for me. Within a month, I had secured a job and was a happy Londoner, moving as fast as the pace of the city. I spent five years building my CV and credentials. In late 2014, I decided to move back home to Amsterdam, bringing with me a wealth of international experience that I wouldn’t have had if all had been dandy five years earlier.

So what is your path? Here’s sharing 10 lessons from my own journey:-

  1. It’s OK to not know your next step all the time. I have pushed myself and grown the most in times of uncertainty.
  2. Don’t be fazed by the rat race. Everyone has their own path. Remember Aesop’s Fables’ The Tortoise and the Hare?
  3. Everyone struggles. Some do at 20, others win hard until they burn out even harder at 30 or 40 only to start all over again.
  4. Make an effort to consistently learn and better yourself on the job and outside. The skills will help you somehow, somewhere, sometime.
  5. Success and failure are inevitable. They don’t define you. Accept them with a pinch of salt and keep looking ahead.
  6. Identify a mentor who has done the time and encourages you to reach your full potential. Brilliant mentors are rare – don’t take them for granted.
  7. Be aware of the naysayers because a rose wouldn’t be a rose without some thorns. See them as your call to aim higher.
  8. Recognize opportunities and work hard in every role within every team under every manager at every company. Reputation management is critical to sustain.
  9. Do your very own SWOT analysis and ask your colleagues for feedback on your strengths and weaknesses. The exercise can prove to be very insightful.
  10. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. You define the shades of green in your path.

Corporate Speak

‘Circling back’, ‘time sensitive’, ‘under review’, ‘suggested course of action’ and ‘sun setting’ are all examples of Corporate Speak, a language you ought to know already or swiftly adopt if not. In fact, I wonder why there isn’t a Corporate Speak option in those drop down lists that allow us to rate our language skills as elementary, intermediate or native.

After all, Corporate Speak is a language in itself. How often do we really sign off personal messages with ‘kind regards’? Not very often. On the one hand, it’s perfectly logical that in a professional environment, our lingo will most definitely be different to how we speak in social circles. Then again, it can feel a tad schizophrenic to become another person by changing our language the moment we walk into a corporate environment.

Over the years I have observed that while Corporate Speak comes naturally to some, it is an acquired skill for others. My take on this is simple – you don’t have to like it especially if it doesn’t sit with how you speak naturally, but sooner or later it will become necessary to be aware of who you are speaking to, the platform you are using to communicate, local cultural sensitivities and equally important, the language your company speaks.

If ‘what’s up’ is the norm at a young gaming studio, it can be perfectly OK to adopt this lingo and make it your own especially if it helps to connect with your peers. If ‘good morning’ and ‘lovely to see you’ are common practice among senior health and safety auditors, you probably don’t want to open with a casual ‘hey’. As the recent BBC post The secret language you speak without realizing it said with reference to tech jargon, “you need to speak the language to play the game”.

Similarly, if you’re addressing an executive, please oh please don’t be casual unless you know the executive for a sufficient period of time, trust has been established through your professional relationship or s/he has specifically asked you to tone down the formalities.

Can it be exhausting to speak with a filter all day long? Sometimes. Is it necessary? This is where it’s important to consider your audience. Is it a customer, a business partner, a line manager or a peer/lunch buddy? Which industry are you working in? In an ideal situation, you want to be yourself while maintaining a degree of professionalism. Whatever you choose and irrespective of the demands of a given situation, I would suggest being genuine in your correspondences. Insincerity translates instantly and knows no filter.

Kind regards,
Naveen

 

8 Email Etiquette Tips

Etiquette Number 1: Acknowledge Emails

Replying to emails is common courtesy and replying promptly shows professionalism. In some cases, a prompt response demonstrates an understanding of urgency. In others, it proves you respect others’ time as much as your own.

Helpful Hint:  If you’re not able to form a complete response for whatever reason, send a quick message “in a meeting – will respond asap”. This will help to manage expectations and you will come across as efficient. If you have overlooked an email, acknowledge the oversight with “apologies, this seems to have drowned in my inbox”. Make the habit of doing some housekeeping by clearing your inbox at least once a week.

Etiquette Number 2: Avoid CAPS LOCK

It gives the impression that you’re shouting. Digitalization is beautiful but it also creates a third entity between you and the receiver of your email. This entity is called perception.

Helpful Hint: Use friendlier options like underlining or making your text bold. Choose a different color or go for the yellow highlighter. It’s a small effort to create a positive image among your colleagues.

Etiquette Number 3: Frame your Questions Conscientiously 

Your questions are fair in representing doubt but shouldn’t come across as suspicious.

Helpful Hint: Avoid “why would you do x over y” and instead try using “I understood xyz from your email. Is that what you meant/intended/planned?” or “I think you meant to say xyz. Would you agree?”

Etiquette Number 4: Stay Clear of Orders

Starting emails with “[Name], send me [xyz]” are seldom appreciated. They come across as rude, demanding and disrespectful.

Helpful Hint: Be tough for the problem and soft for the person. Inspire, don’t coerce. Try “Hi [Name]. I need your help with xyz …. ” or even “I’m running against time here and would appreciate your help with xyz”. 

Etiquette Number 5: Don’t cc Half the Company

Identify the core project team in any given scenario and stick to them in your email thread. Unless there is a need for an escalation think twice. Is it necessary to copy ten colleagues outside of the core conversation? Will it add value or confusion? Is it better to take the conversation offline or set up another call after discussing with the core team?

Etiquette Number 6: Set a Useful Out of Office 

An out of office email without a clear redirect who is available and has received a complete handover from you is probably not of much use to anyone.

Helpful Hint: Arrange proper coverage while you’re OOO and make sure they have a complete handover. If they’re in a different timezone, consider having an OOO contact in the same time zone as you. This will make your email redirect helpful and show that you care about the job at hand and everyone it impacts even when you’re in the Bahamas.

Etiquette Number 7: If it’s Marked “Confidential” …

Don’t make the mistake of taking the word confidential lightly in the corporate world. Data privacy is everything.

Helpful Hint:  Emails marked confidential are strictly for the recipients of those emails. It doesn’t mean you can casually show it to the colleague sat next to you. You’ve probably heard “every confidante has a confidante”. Sorry, not when comes to confidential emails.

Etiquette Number 8: Break Down the Wall

… because every now and again even the toughest drill sergeant needs to show heart.

Helpful Hint: Send a positive email welcoming back colleagues from maternity. Send a short note to your team with Christmas wishes, or inquire if you know a colleague’s been out sick for weeks or had a death in the family. Remember that entity between you and the recipient of your email? They will perceive you to be sincere and maybe even go the extra mile for you the next time you send an email asking for their help.