What to Do When You're New: How to Be Comfortable, Confident, and Successful in New Situations

What to Do When You're New: How to Be Comfortable, Confident, and Successful in New Situations

by Keith Rollag
What to Do When You're New: How to Be Comfortable, Confident, and Successful in New Situations

What to Do When You're New: How to Be Comfortable, Confident, and Successful in New Situations

by Keith Rollag

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Blending stories and insights with simple techniques and exercises, this invaluable guide for the introvert will get you out of your comfort zone and trying new things in no time.

Whether you’re changing jobs, joining a group, or moving to a new city, putting yourself out there in new situations is no picnic. Being forced to introduce yourself, having to ask questions among strangers, learning expectations of those around you—it’s not fun for anyone! However, when we let our worries stop us from getting familiar with our surroundings and learning the dos and don’ts of our new environment, we seriously hinder our progress, joy, and the opportunities that await us.

In What to Do When You're New, you can discover the necessary skills to learn how to:

  • Overcome fears
  • Make great first impressions
  • Talk to strangers with ease
  • Get up to speed quickly
  • Connect with people wherever you go

This book combines the author's research and firsthand experience from having to adjust to a job transfer to Japan with that of leading scientists to explain why we are so uneasy in new situations—and how we can learn to become more confident and successful newcomers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814434895
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 09/30/2015
Edition description: Special ed.
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 960,242
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

KEITH ROLLAG, PH.D., is an organizational researcher, management consultant, and Associate Professor of Management and Chair of the Management Division at Babson College. His work and ideas have been featured in The New York Times, Newsday, Investor's Business Daily, MIT Sloan Management Review, Wired News, Harvard Management Update, and other publications.

Read an Excerpt

What To Do When You're New

How To Be Comfortable, Confident, and Successful In New Situations

By Keith Rollag


Copyright © 2016 Keith Rollag
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8144-3489-5



To achieve almost anything in life you have to put yourself into new situations. To have a successful career, you often need to change jobs and join new organizations. You get promoted into new teams. Sometimes you're transferred to unfamiliar cities and countries. Outside of work, you're new every time you go back to school for more education or join a new health club to get in shape. You're often a newcomer every time you take up a new hobby, go on a vacation overseas, or check one more thing off your "bucket list."

In fact, it's nearly impossible to accomplish anything meaningful and important in life without at some point having to meet new people, learn new things, and take on new roles. And as a newcomer, how you think and act in those first few seconds, minutes, hours, and days matters. What you do when you're new often determines whether you will find the success, satisfaction, and happiness that drove you to be a newcomer in the first place.

The goal of this book is to help you become a more successful newcomer — across all kinds of new situations. We'll explore the science of newcomer success and give you a set of strategies, techniques, and exercises to become:

• More productive and confident in your new role

• Better connected to new co-workers, classmates, group members, and neighbors

• Less anxious and awkward around strangers

• More willing to seek out those new experiences that make life interesting, rewarding, and fun


I've been studying newcomer success for over twenty years. In the workplace, I have interviewed hundreds of new employees in a variety of roles, levels, and industries. I have observed newcomers while they work, and have talked to their managers. I've also asked newcomers to keep journals about their first few weeks on the job and have conducted newcomer surveys across many organizations.

Outside of the workplace, I've interviewed newcomers joining schools, churches, neighborhoods, theater groups, health clubs, and even rock bands. I've interviewed college students moving into residence halls, and senior citizens moving into retirement communities. I've talked with people taking classes on everything from swimming, guitar, yoga, and skiing to beekeeping. Through these interviews I've been trying to understand what successful newcomers do that allows them to have such positive, rewarding experiences. How do they get up to speed quickly? How do they integrate themselves into their new group? How do they get the information and advice they need to be productive in their new role?

I've discovered that the secret to newcomer success is no secret at all. It mostly comes down to our willingness and ability to do five key things:

1. Introduce ourselves to strangers.

2. Learn and remember names.

3. Ask questions.

4. Seek out and start new relationships.

5. Perform new things in front of others.

For most of us, these five skills are both the key to newcomer success and our greatest source of anxiety in new situations. For example, although we know that introductions are critical to getting connected, we are reluctant to approach and introduce ourselves to new people. We realize that remembering names creates a great "second" impression, but we discover we're unable to recall names when we meet people again.

We know that asking questions is often the only way to get the information we need, but we hesitate to bother busy, important people. We understand that all work gets done through relationships, but we are reluctant to start and build new ones. Finally, we find ourselves anxious about performing our new role in front of unfamiliar people, even though we know that newcomers are expected to start out slow and make a few mistakes.

The Networking Event That Wasn't

Does any of the following seem familiar?

You know you're supposed to network, and this event is the perfect opportunity to build new connections. But as you walk into the room, you are overwhelmed by the unfamiliar crowd, and you desperately search the sea of strangers for a few friendly faces. Finding some, you go say hi, and spend the rest of the event huddled and chatting with those you already know, never really meeting anyone new.

Or you don't see a friendly face, and nobody approaches you to introduce themselves, so you end up on the sidelines staring at your smartphone. You pretend that you've got urgent email or text messages that you just have to respond to. That way you can justify why you're standing in the corner by yourself for most of the event.

Either way, as you leave, you decide that the meeting wasn't a good networking opportunity after all.

If you've had this experience, you're not alone. Columbia University researchers Paul Ingram and Michael Morris once organized a networking mixer for a group of executives. Over 95 percent of the attendees said that a primary reason for coming to the mixer was to meet and develop relationships with new people. Prior to the event, they asked each executive to identify which people on the invitation list they already knew.

As the executives arrived, each one was given a special electronic nametag, which allowed Ingram and Morris to track the movements and conversations of each executive over the course of the 80-minute event.

They found that, despite the executives' intentions to meet new people, most of them spent the event with people they already knew. They rarely approached and introduced themselves to strangers, and those who did meet new people were introduced by someone familiar to both. What was Ingram and Morris's advice for those looking to meet new people at networking events? Don't bring your friends along.

In other words, the key to successful networking often is overcoming your reluctance to approach and introduce yourself to new people — a fundamental newcomer skill. This book can help. In Chapter 5, we'll dissect and analyze the social dynamics surrounding introductions, and we'll explore why it causes so much anxiety. We'll also review specific strategies and exercises to help you:

• Approach strangers with less anxiety

• Confidently introduce yourself

• Make a good first impression

• Engage in small talk that helps establish a positive relationship

• Leave the introduction with permission to approach people later for help, advice, and fun

What's Her Name Again?

While newcomer success often starts with the ability to proactively introduce yourself, how you think and act the second time you meet someone matters, too. Has the following ever happened to you?

You see her all the time. Maybe it's a co-worker, a classmate, or a mother standing on the sidelines at your kid's soccer game. The first time you met her you exchanged names and had a really nice conversation, and it's clear that she is someone you'd like to know better. But the next time you meet she calls you by name, and you panic because you can't remember hers. You reply with an enthusiastic but somewhat lame greeting like "Hey, how are you doing?" and try to pretend you know her name.

You continue to meet from time to time and have friendly interactions, but you become more and more uncomfortable because you still can't recall her name. Admitting it now would really be awkward. The crazy thing is that you can remember almost everything else about her except her name. Your greatest fear is that someday you'll run into her while you're with another person, and you'll be expected to introduce them to each other.

You'd like to get to know her better, but the whole "name thing" makes you reluctant to take things further. So you stick to quick pleasantries, avoid her when you are with another person, and hope she doesn't notice.

If this sounds familiar, it's hardly unique. Approximately 80 percent of the people I've interviewed say they are bad at remembering names. Many can point to newcomer situations in which they've been anxious and reluctant to interact with people they've recently met because they can't recall their names.

Most people fear the embarrassment of blanking on someone's name. The British gaming company Ladbrokes conducted a survey of 2,000 people and found that the respondents' number one most embarrassing moment was forgetting the name of someone they were introducing. Their number three most embarrassing moment was getting someone's name wrong.

But there is hope. In Chapter 6 we explore why most of us are bad at recalling names, and what you can do about it. We'll examine the neuroscience of memory and learn why the way we process and store peoples' names can cause problems with recall. We'll also look at the social dynamics of introductions, which often prevent us from even hearing, learning, and memorizing a person's name in the first place. More important, you'll find a variety of techniques you can use before, during, and after introductions that will help you:

• Learn and memorize the names of new people.

• Confidently recall their names when you meet them again.

• Avoid embarrassment when you don't remember a name.

Time Flies and it Seems Too Late

Many people I've interviewed say the newcomer success they care most about is being successful in a new job. Thinking back to the last time you joined a new organization, does any of the following ring a bell?

You're a few weeks into your new position, but you still don't know everyone. Your boss gave you a whirlwind tour the first day, but the introductions were so fast you barely got to know anybody. You'd like to ask certain key people for help and advice, but you're reluctant to approach them. Either you were never introduced to them in the first place or they always seem busy, and you don't want to impose or interrupt their work. Besides, now that several weeks have gone by, you feel you should already know the answers to some of your questions.

You thought by now you'd have made a few new friends at work, but so far it's been mostly minor chit chat with random people. Lunch is still uncomfortable — sometimes you are invited to join the "lunch bunch," but often they leave without you. Looking back, you wish you had asked more questions and worked harder to make new friends, but it seems too late and awkward to do it now.

I've heard variations of this story from dozens of newcomers. Some of the underlying frustration and regret was caused by managers who didn't take the time to properly introduce the newcomers to others in the office. Some of it was caused by co-workers who weren't welcoming and accepting of new people. But some of it was the result of the newcomers' reluctance to ask questions and develop new relationships.

When I've asked newcomers "If you could do it all over again, what would you do differently?" by far the most common answer I've received has been "Ask more questions." In Chapter 7 we'll explore why we're reluctant to ask questions of relative strangers, especially busy, influential people. We'll analyze the social dynamics surrounding question-asking and review several techniques you can use to:

• Be more strategic and proactive in asking questions.

• Approach and ask questions with less anxiety.

• Ask questions in ways that create or maintain a positive impression.

Newcomer success also happens through relationships. We need them to learn new roles, acquire information and advice, be accepted by the new group, and build the influence we need to achieve our goals.

Relationships are also the key to newcomer satisfaction. The Gallup Organization has conducted thousands of company surveys with millions of employees. They found that one of the strongest predictors of job satisfaction is how strongly an employee agrees with the statement "I have a friend at work."

Though we make friends throughout our lives, only a few people I've interviewed consider themselves extremely good at developing relationships. In Chapter 8, we'll do the following:

• Explore why we're reluctant and awkward about starting new relationships.

• Investigate the science of relationship development (from acquaintances to friendships).

• Discover several strategies that will help you move beyond the initial introduction and develop meaningful relationships.

• Find ways to practice and get better at starting relationships and "fitting in."

The Reluctant Participant

Finally, here's one more situation common to newcomers:

You've walked, driven by, or seen an advertisement for classes or lessons in something you'd really like to learn or do. Maybe it's public speaking, sales strategies, cooking, or aerobics. Maybe it's photography, dance, yoga, or a foreign language. You really want to take the class, but you're reluctant to go.

You know it'll be awkward to meet the instructors and other participants, but you're mostly worried about performing in front of other people, many of whom are probably more experienced and skilled than you are. You'll be embarrassed when they find out what a total beginner you are. You tell yourself you should have started doing this long ago, when you were younger. Instead of taking the class, you stay away, convincing yourself that you really didn't want to learn that skill, sport, or hobby anyway.

This is a common story, and all of them seem to result from the teller's reluctance to be seen by others as an awkward, mistake-making, less-than-perfect newcomer. At work it can keep you from taking on new roles, developing new skills, or presenting your best ideas. Outside of work, it can simply keep you from trying new things — so you lose out on all the good things that come with new experiences.

In Chapter 9, we'll explore the science of newcomer performance to:

• Understand why we are anxious and reluctant to perform in new groups.

• Develop strategies to move from a focus on "being good" to a focus on "getting better."

• See the value and benefits of approaching new situations with a "beginner's mind."

Of course, there are other things you need to do to be a successful newcomer. You need to establish credibility and build trust. You need to negotiate responsibilities and role expectations. You need to attend orientations and training sessions. If you're a new leader, you have to create a shared purpose and generate early wins to create momentum for change.

In this book, I focus on these five newcomer skills because I believe they are the fundamental skills required for newcomer success. The more confident, comfortable, and willing you are to perform these five basic skills, the more successful you can be as new leaders, team members, students, neighbors, volunteers, parishioners, tourists, and any other newcomer role you decide to take on.

Think of these skills as equivalent to catching, throwing, and hitting in baseball, or scoring and passing in soccer. They are the foundational skills that make all other newcomer and new leader success strategies possible. For example, you often can't establish credibility and trust without first introducing yourself. You can't build networks without being able to start and nurture new relationships. You can't hit the ground running without asking questions and learning to perform your new role. And it's hard to get people to follow you if you can't remember their names.

Most managers (and writers of newcomer books) assume you're already good at these five key newcomer skills, and therefore tend to ignore them. They expect that because you've grown up, gone to school, and interacted with hundreds of people over the years, you're already a master at making introductions, remembering names, asking questions, and so on.

My interviews with newcomers tell a different story. Most of us don't consider ourselves exceptionally good, or even good, at these critical behaviors. Our reluctance or lack of confidence in one or more of these skills is often at the heart of why we don't put ourselves out there and create the newcomer success we desire.


Excerpted from What To Do When You're New by Keith Rollag. Copyright © 2016 Keith Rollag. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents



Part One: Why New Situations Make Us Nervous

1. Success Starts with Being New

2. Always a Newcomer

3. Nature and Nurture: The Science of Newcomer Anxiety

4. Power of Practice and Reflection

Part Two: Mastering the Five Critical Newcomer Skills

5. Introducing Yourself

6. Remembering Names

7. Asking Questions

8. Starting New Relationships

9. Performing in New Situations

Part Three: Giving Back and Getting Out There

10. Giving Back:, Helping Others When They’re New

11. Get Out There and Succeed



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