The workplace has often been referred to as a jungle of some sort, where inevitably only the fittest survive. From dealing with demanding bosses to hitting unrealistic targets to even getting that promotion you want so badly, the office is slowly turning into the corporate version of “The Hunger Games”. Nevertheless, with the ever-rising cost of living, not that many people can afford to quit the 8-5 rat race just yet.

Evidently, knowing how to navigate such workplace challenges is an invaluable skill and many of us wish we had gained such knowledge in university instead of the endless theory we received. It’s clear at this point, to say that the most important things you learn in life, you don’t learn in school. In fact, experience has proven to be the best teacher in most cases.

Personally, I have found that the most crucial lessons I’ve gained in life, I have figured out practically on my own, out of school. For example, my first couple of jobs provided me with an immense learning experience; it was like diving into an ocean of sharks where you realized people at the office weren’t as nice as you thought and that they all have their own agendas to push through. I also learned that a company’s culture is so crucial to your progress. If you seemingly don’t fit in, you quickly become a problem that must be dealt with.

However, I am grateful for all my experiences and know with certainty that all of them have ultimately built me into the person I am. Nevertheless, if you ask me, I would have greatly appreciated a few pointers here and there on better navigating this environment before I dived in. I would have definitely managed my expectations better. I recently spoke to a few of my colleagues and asked them what they wished they would have known sooner about navigating the workplace. Here are just a few of the pointers they gave.

Email Management

The way you present yourself in the workplace has a profound impact on your image. And it’s not just your body language or how you dress but also the way you communicate. Communication is an essential tool in personal branding and this includes the emails you write. Email management can boost your self-image in the office – or completely ruin it. It may seem minor and immaterial, but so many employees lose out because of poor email management skills.

An email greatly represents who you are in the office, especially to people who do not know you in person. It can be likened to your personal press statement just like companies’ press releases. Some of the pointers to handle your emails better include;

  1. Maintain correct grammar. The typos are not a good look. Make a point to have your teammates proofread your emails before you send them out if you have to.
  2. Keep it short and sweet. Getting your point across with as few words as possible is far more effective than writing a lengthy e-mail.
  3. Leave out the emotions when communicating. You’re better off ignoring annoying emails. Emotions can fuel a well-crafted message or tank your career abruptly.
  4. Ensure you have important conversations recorded on email. It helps avoid the “he said she said” exchanges when things go south.

Self Appreciation

Sometimes it can get really rough at work especially if you’re engaged in a new task or you’re the newbie at the office. The learning curve is often quite steep, and you are bound to make a couple of mistakes here and there. It’s a lot. Your supervisors may also not be as supportive as you expect. Don’t let it bog you down. Learn from your mistakes and move forward. Focus on improving yourself.

It’s not always easy to do this but there is this hack I learned, where you can create an appreciation folder on your computer and you can document all your wins at work there. Every time a colleague said something positive about your work or when your efforts were acknowledged towards a task or you can even list all the tasks you thought you couldn’t hack and you managed to – include all of them in the folder.

Anytime you feel bogged down, you can go there and remind yourself of your potential and abilities. When you mess up at work, just take stock of what you’ve learned and keep it moving. Remember, you are your biggest fan. No one will do this for you.

Remember people’s names

This is one way we can extend courtesies to each other and in turn create a lasting impression. Studies show that our brain registers that if someone addresses us by our names, they deserve our attention and are equally paying attention to us.

Think of that one person at work who seemingly can never get your name right or always baptizes you with different names every other day. How do their actions make you feel? If they needed a favor at work-one that you were not obligated to do, would you do it for them? Your guess is as good as mine!

Find a support system

As I said earlier, the workplace can get crazy, and being human beings, sometimes we just need a shoulder to cry on. A support system at the office can greatly make everything else more bearable. Work friendships provide a sense of work-life balance that can boost employee productivity and enhance a positive work culture at the office.

However, there is a risk to this because not everyone at the office is going to be your friend. If anything, most of them are competing with you and would throw you under the bus given a chance. Nevertheless, there are still good guys out there and all it takes is just finding that one person.

Mentors can also be helpful. When it comes to the wisdom you need to help you advance in your career, your mentor can be the one there guiding and helping you to maximize your potential. They could be someone senior with more experience. You will definitely be assured of objective advice and coaching no matter how harsh it is.

Do not be attached to a job/company

Many people argue that this is the best career advice yet. It is so common, but most people just don’t get it.

Love your job but don’t love your company because you may not know when your company stops loving you.

Narayana Muthry

Getting too attached to your job or company can compromise your power and peace. After signing that contract, it’s very important to be cognizant of the fact that it may be terminated at one point whether fairly or unfairly. The terms of the contract or your team members may also change. What then?

It’s quite crucial to center yourself and make yourself the priority. Go to the hospital when you get unwell. Get off your desk and go for all those lunch breaks. Do what you’re supposed to as per your contract and go home to your family. Do not prioritize your job at their expense because you’re easily replaceable by your employer. The interests of the client are important but so is your family’s.

Speak your mind but not too freely

Imagine this scenario.

You’re in a meeting with your colleagues. And your manager tells you that you’re free to speak your mind.

So, you decide to speak your mind. Suddenly, the room becomes still and everyone stares at you, wondering where you mastered the audacity to voice whatever concern you had. That’s what brutal honesty does to people. Sometimes, honest feedback is often viewed as an attack in particular office cultures. As a result, you may be flagged as a misfit and unfortunately, this may just be the genesis of all your woes at work thereafter.

Try and assess the culture in your workplace before putting yourself out there and determine whether their “open door policy” is as open as it claims. Otherwise, if you’re not careful, your mouth will get you into predicaments you could have otherwise avoided.

On the other hand, maintaining silence in the face of transgressions can be costly in the long run. This is because it often doesn’t resolve anything; it merely pushes resentments beneath the surface. Resultantly, these sentiments grow and morph into something worse over time. It can affect productivity and general performance. Ideally, it is important to spearhead change in such unfavorable environments but gear up, because it’s not going to be easy. Be strategic and wise while speaking up to ensure effective results.

Be Kind!

As much as we are told that we didn’t go to work to make friends but to earn a living, it doesn’t mean that we should stop being decent human beings to each other. People who tend to be hostile and manipulative for their own gain, while ignoring others’ welfare and putting them down, may attain greater power in the workplace but ultimately cause a lot of damage to their teams. As a result, employee productivity and performance take a hit. The workplace becomes toxic.

 Studies have shown that when people receive an act of kindness, they pay it back, not just to the same person, but often to someone entirely new. This leads to a culture of generosity in an organization. Luckily I have been fortunate enough to encounter a number of kind people over the years whose gestures made a lasting impression on me. As a result, I have made a point to return the favor whenever I can.

A little kindness goes a long way. It doesn’t take a lot – a smile, a kind word, an offer to help or just practicing fairness in your dealings.