How to Be Comfortable, Confident, and Successful in New Situations

Succeeding as a Newcomer

In an old commercial, a cattle rancher is asked when he last left the “county.” The look on his face reveals that he can’t remember. Cattle ranchers notwithstanding, most of us have lives filled with moves: to new places, new companies and new teams, not to mention new hobbies or new sports. We’re in unfamiliar environments, dealing with unfamiliar people and trying to accomplish unfamiliar tasks.

whattodowhenyourenewIn a new book entitled What to Do When You’re New, author Keith Rollag has written a manual to help us successfully navigate the unsettling experience. At the heart of the book are five actions that, Rollag writes, newcomers must master: introducing yourself, remembering names, asking questions, starting new relationships and performing in new situations. For each of these actions, Rollag explains why, as newcomers, we are reluctant to perform these actions, offers different strategies and techniques to accomplish each action effectively and finishes with ways to practice the techniques.

Is This a Good Time?

For example, Rollag writes, the first important step to integrate successfully into a new situation is to introduce yourself to others.

While this might sound easy, most people, Rollag writes, are reluctant to introduce themselves for a number of reasons, including the fear of interrupting people at the wrong time and place; introducing yourself to people who don’t want to meet you; or making a bad first impression, for example by doing something that annoys the other person. Rollag’s advice: Just do it. The social risk is in most cases much less than you think. To help readers take the first step, he lists the key parts of the opening conversation: Lead with a greeting, state your name, establish the introduction as an introduction (“I would like to introduce myself ”), state who you are and why you want to introduce yourself (including the fact that you are new), quickly ask for permission to continue (“Is this a good time?”) and be brief. If you are humble, respectful and show an interest in the person to whom you are introducing yourself, you will make a good first impression, Rollag writes.

Rollag offers equally practical advice for remembering names, asking questions, starting new relationships and performing in new situations. After explaining why the names of new people escape our long-term memory, for example, Rollag gives a number of techniques to remember names, including mentally attaching silly visuals to the face based on the name (Phillip Harper is imagined trying to play a musical harp with his lips).

Perhaps the most challenging action to take as a new- comer is to perform in front of others. Whether you have just been hired by a new company or are taking dance lessons for the first time, you are expected to perform in front of a group of critical quasi-strangers. Rollag presents some helpful psychological insight related to talent and performance. Many people believe that they have a pool of defined talent. Thus, when they perform for the first time in front of others, Rollag explains, they see the initial performance as a “big reveal” — in other words, “I have to be good because this is the best that I can do and will ever do.” In truth, Rollag writes, newcomers should reject the mindset of “being good” and adopt instead the mindset of “getting better.” This mindset lowers the expectation of the performance. You focus on the fact that you are new at this (or new here) and you will get better. Importantly, you realize that this is what others are thinking. Suddenly, the enormous pressure of trying to be a star from the first day disappears.

Over the past 20 years, Rollag has interviewed a wide variety of newcomers in a wide variety of situations both in the workplace and outside of the workplace. What to Do When You’re New is built on real-world experiences and research and offers readers a practical guide to succeeding as a newcomer.

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