August 8, 2014 | By

In Over Your Head: 3 Life Preservers to Keep You Afloat

Have you ever been given an assignment at work and had that “I have NO idea what to do” feeling?

If you answered no, don’t worry. Your time will come. It’s so common in today’s fast-paced workplace, that whether you’re starting a new initiative, or you’re at your first job out of college, learning to positively channel that angst can turn a seemingly hopeless rat maze into something a whole lot simpler. In short, learning to work through such situations will make you a better employee and ultimately better able to excel at your job.

I have the boon of being a part of a booming company in a booming industry. In fact, the Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS, for less of a mouthful) industry is among the fastest-growing industries out there. Great minds in tech have estimated that the industry is growing at 29.2% every year and will continue to grow rapidly through 2020 (Frost & Sullivan).

If the whole industry is expanding like that, think about those out in front–the ones who are leading the game! Naturally, they’re going to experience some growing pains.

In such a dynamic environment, learning to figure things out on your own is a great strength. But, your boss likely doesn’t want you frolicking off in some random direction, hoping that direction will come. You need to have a go-to plan for thriving in a you’re-on-your-own culture. Here are three tips:

1. Be Clear—Clarify expectations like nobody’s business.

When your boss gives you a task, make sure that you clarify as much as possible what he/she actually wants. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to. Use reflective listening by repeating back to them what your understanding of the task is, like this: “So, if I understand correctly, you would like me to . . . ” and repeat what you understand until you and your boss are saying the same thing.

2. Be Confident—Remember, they hired you for a reason.

Take a tip from the movie Hitch: When your boss hired you, he/she said “yes” when the answer could just as easily have been “no.” Unless you were the only applicant, you were picked over somebody else for a specific reason. Why was that?

If you don’t know, then figure out what your strengths are. Then, apply those strengths to your work. “Fail fast”, a common notion in the startup world, is so important here. Realize that you won’t get everything right the first time. In the end, if your boss didn’t prescribe a process to follow, then it’s not so much the process you use as the result you produce that matters. Take every correction as a positive learning opportunity. Don’t take offense. Make the correction and move on.

3. Be Capable—Spend extra time becoming the expert.

In school, not having the right answer can be embarrassing. However, in the business world, you’re not always expected to have the right answer. In many cases, there is no “right” answer. There’s just the solution that fits.

A wise man once told me that when you’re new to something, take three magazines focused on that topic and read them cover to cover—including the advertisements. Assuming that you understood it and can remember a fair amount of it, you will have become a near-expert in the industry. This advice has served me well. It’s amazing how much progress you can make when you read.

And relax. You won’t be “new” at this forever. If you apply the up-front effort, you will eventually improve, and what was once prickly and uncomfortable will become smooth and familiar.

So how to sum up? It’s all about becoming a positive, life-long learner. Not being afraid to ask questions. Processing and applying constructive criticism. The beauty is, you can never learn too much, and you’ll always be better off than when you started.

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