I’m curious. Do you have a story about your first day at work at a new job? Your first week? Are you like me in that it’s been a while since you were a newbie on a job? From what I remember, I walked around, kept my mouth shut, kept my head down and tried my best to get a handle on things. Some people were friendly and some, not so much.
In the 12 months to May of this year, employment increased by 109,000 or 0.6%, the result of gains in full-time work. That’s a lot of new faces walking around new workplaces. There are some great things going on like workplace mentors and buddy systems. I even came across a piece of software that busts through the silos by helping new hires connect with people in other parts of the company who might be from the same school or share the same hobbies or interests called Parklet. Pretty cool.
Certainly, all that helps, but have you ever thought about what part you could play in welcoming people to your organization? You should because you could have a greater impact than you think.
I 'd like to share a story with you about the impact someone had on me during a first day.
Fear of the unknown
When I was doing my Master’s in Music, I went to my first West African drumming class. I was the newbie. I had come from another university where I did my Bachelor’s degree. By the time I found the room, a rehearsal was already in progress. A Master Drummer from Ghana was leading it. He was big, not overly tall but square jawed and incredibly muscular, and his arms rippled as he laid down the commanding notes that echoed through the room on the master drum. There was no question that he meant business. In this music, the master drummer calls all the shots, what the drummers play and what moves the dancers do.
The other students in the group had been part of this class for years and knew all the parts that had to be played. They sounded fantastic. I stood there in amazement, listening - no not just listening but feeling - the sound as it permeated my body. Then, a couple of players, who knew I was going to be there motioned for me to join in. I was petrified.
Now here I was, a well-trained musician, one music degree under my belt, having performed two solo recitals to get that degree. I had been part of countless rehearsals and performances, even some radio and TV appearances and a few recordings, but I was scared. I had never played anything like this before.
As I walked up, I said to myself “It’s just drumming right? I’ve been drumming and playing music almost my life”. As I sat down I was handed a drum and a couple of sticks. The music continued swirling around me while I was shown my part. Later I learned that the piece (which seemed to go one forever) was a series of repetitive patterns that alternated on the Master Drummer’s cue.
Eventually I learned my patterns and could play them. But there was a problem. I’d get lost. My mind would get overwhelmed. I’d have to stop and each time I’d receive a stern look from the Master Drummer, but he would never stop. I felt like everything I knew about music was of no help. Everyone else would also keep going. They were even singing the words (in Ewe, the traditional language) and playing at the same time – singing I said!!! I don’t sing but thought to myself “man o man, I’d have to learn that too!”
This went on for what seemed like an eternity until there was a bit of a break. To be honest, I was thinking this wasn’t for me and how could I get out of here. I couldn’t recall ever feeling so out my element, so disconnected. Then it happened. One of the other players came up to me and said, “ Paul, here’s the secret. You just have to know how your part connects with the others”.
And then he played one of the parts for me while I played mine so I could see how they fit. Then he played another. Eventually we got through a few during that break and it was all starting to make sense.
Simple, I know, but because of everything going on at once, I couldn’t get it. This was an incredibly generous gift. His showing me this allowed me to get back in when I would lose my spot. I was no longer sitting there hopeless and looking like a fool.
This simple act of kindness (by just one person) allowed me to become acclimatized to that music. It opened a door that allowed me to use my skills and knowledge to fit in with something new and fantastic.
I later went on to fall in love with this music. I soon joined a local African Drumming Group specializing in this music and over the course of my career have performed this music all over the world.
I would go so far as to say that for many years now it has been part of my musical DNA. Without that person’s kindness, I might have walked away saying “it’s not for me”.
Just writing this story for you brings back such strong feelings and it is something I keep in mind whenever I see an opportunity for me to the generous one.
In performance with Abraham Adzenyah and the World Drums Orchestra at Expo 1998 in Lisbon, Portugal.
There is a lot of talk these days about multi-generational workplaces and how employers need to find ways to get everyone to fit together because of the differences in workplace attitudes and expectations. But I think that feeling like you belong is a very strong motivator to stay somewhere, no matter your generation. And sure it helps to have lots of apps and protocols that help people get acclimatized, but person-to-person interaction is a huge factor.
Not every kind moment is going to necessarily have the same impact as that person did on me all those years ago but, hey, it might, and wouldn’t that be cool.
Here are 5 simple things you can do:
1) A smile and a few kind words
2) Offering a few tips that will make their job easier
3) Making an effort to include them in something such as an office sports pool, an after work social outing, a workplace sports team
4) Show some interest in them by asking a few questions
5) Sharing something about yourself.
As I write these few things, I look at them and say, well hey, these are just polite things to do. At one time this was just how people acted with each other but I fear with today’s corporate pressures and especially with our heads buried in our screens, it’s easy to forget to be polite.
Maybe with a student you feel that they’re not going to be here very long anyway so why bother. And if you’ve been around a while like me, it’s easy to forget what it’s like to have a first day or a first week. I hope this post makes you think back to when you were the new person.
When I deliver my corporate program at a certain point I have people improvise music together. It’s a wonderful immediate example of how a team can get stronger when they integrate with those around them. Even if the piece is solid, when a new instrument comes in, people’s heads perk up and they have to think about how to work with the new sound. They have to decide how they will interact. A new sound is never ignored. It also demonstrates that every person has something to offer no matter their level and we will only know what that is if we take the time to listen.
So the next time you see someone new at work, take a moment and say hello. They’ll appreciate it for sure but it’ll make you smile inside too as you recall the time when the new person was you!