This past week I’ve been reflecting on the way we work and how that varies from person to person. A bit of context about my day job. I work for a clinical research organization that specializes in research settings where there is not much infrastructure for clinical trials. For example, we managed the Ebola vaccine trials for health care workers in Sierra Leone. I am a proposal manager, which means I have to bring together a lot of different pieces of complex information to build a proposal for our clients.
The man I’m training with is awesome at his job. He remains calm and deliberate in his actions no matter what fire is burning. Nothing really phases him. I know he is the gold standard for proposal management, so I do my best to learn from his tactics. And yet there is a limit to this. What works for one person, may not work for another. He can store everything in notes on his computer and in his head and this works great for him.
But for me, I realized I’m very visual. I need to have some things printed out, I need to see a calendar with dates, a list of who is working on what, and I like to be in person for meetings. My optimal way of working does not necessarily look like his way of working. And as I realized this I found out something interesting. As we work, we have to have the self assurance to be explicit about how we operate optimally with ourselves and others. I have realized for complex information, I need to print it out and read it on paper, double fisting a pen and highlighter. (Sorry Mother Nature, but when I do my job well and get more authority I will be there to project you!).
As I began to make this transition and step into my own in my job I noticed two destructive assumptions were blocking my way.
#1) We have to be perfect, we have to have all the answers and not make mistakes.
#2) We can’t speak up and tell others what we need.
Keep your mouth shut, keep your head down and don’t make any mistakes.
Turns out this is ALL wrong. I will start with the first assumption. In the very challenging jobs where we have to push ourselves to do well, we aren’t going to have all the answers. Doing a good job is not knowing everything. It is bringing our best work to the table, and then working well with others to complete the picture. To do this you must find the confidence to say, “I don’t know the answer to that question, who can help us answer it?” It is to say this unapologetically, with confidence.
#2 We have to be able to speak up to let others know what we need. I do better with in person meetings, can you meet me in the conference room? I need to study this text on my own outside this meeting. I will get back to you once I’ve done this. No apologies, just how you operate. Or on the endless virtual meetings, some with 20+ participants: I don’t know who’s speaking right now, can you tell us who is speaking before you start in?
Does it matter that your coworker doesn’t need what you’re asking for? Does it matter that they do their job just fine without this? No. It doesn’t. You’re on the team. You’re awesome. And this is what you need to do your best work.
And why in the world wouldn’t you ask for what you need so you were best positioned to succeed?
The assumption behind how you communicate: I’m awesome. I work in the way I need to work to do a great job. This is what it looks like.
Go, fight, win!