Watch and Learn

So, I have a habit of seeming unproductive when I first meet co-workers and colleagues. In particular on the professional level, but it also applies to my general demeanor when meeting people who enter my life. Now this may sound bad, being unproductive, but in the long run, it has helped me  personally a great deal and as a professional is has helped me to serve students and grow as a practitioner more than ever.

I have a few practices that I use when first meeting new colleagues and co-workers to help me get a better understanding of them beyond the “first impression”.

If I’m new on campus, I schedule meetings with all the key offices and players that I will ultimately work with on a regular basis (and being in student involvement my last position ultimately had me at over 30 meetings, but it’s been worth it). I introduce myself and inquire about having a meeting to talk about my role, and how can I help, support and collaborate with them on projects, be it theirs or mine and to learn more about their office and services.Sometimes this will be over coffee, other times lunch and even others in their office. I let them select the location. Most will be eager to meet, even if it is only for political capitol in their own pockets.

I normally schedule a one hour meeting. During the meeting, I make a conscious effort to keep my introduction and information on my role(s), office goals, etc. limited to an average of 5 minutes. For the rest of the hour I let them control the conversation. I let them talk about anything and everything they wish to share, be it office politics, their personal journey to the institution, their office, their programs, their staff. Most times people can go on and on about themselves (its human nature). But if there is ever a lull, I ask several key open ended questions that get them going again:

1) What can I do to help and support your office?

2) What programs or events have you wished to collaborate on with my office/predecessor and were not able to?

3) How did you come to work at (institution name)?

4) Any advice, suggestions, or people I should meet with and why?

While they talk, I listen and take notes. I ensure to interact and have a conversation with them, but all the while, the I’m really paying attention to several other aspects of the individual and the conversation:

1) What they are talking about and how they are talking about it

2) Their non-verbals, i.e. posture, nervous ticks, obsession with their iPhone

3) Their responses when new ideas, collaborations  or offers of support and resources are offered

4) Where their loyalties lie and who is in their “circle”

5) Do they use “us”, “we”, and “our” or “me”, “I” and “myself”?

6) Is there a connection between the environment they selected to meet in and their professional personality?

7) And finally their interactions with me and if they are politicking and placating or being genuine.

These practices can also work in a general meeting setting when you’re first meeting a new colleague. but rather than having a one on one conversation and utilizing open-ended questions, key in on making note of those “Other Aspects” as they begin to interact in the meeting, topics and issues. Sometimes seeing how a person acts and works in a general meeting can almost be more telling than in a one-on-one conversation.

None of these are hard and fast rules or tips that will work all the time or for everyone, but they sure do work for me the majority of the time and maybe they can help you acclimate yourself to a new colleague or staff member and better understand how you can or need to work with them in order to be most productive and efficient 🙂

Courtesy of
Courtesy of

Until next time!

Peace, Love and Pandas!

Published by Brian

I am currently the Assistant Director of Student Life for Registered Student Organizations and Late-Night Programming at Michigan State University. After earning my B.A. from the University of Michigan-Flint, I entered the Student Affairs profession. After a few years in the field, I returned to school and earned my M.A. in Educational Leadership-Higher Education Student Affairs from Eastern Michigan University. In my spare time I blog about my thoughts and musings on current issues in higher education, student affairs, digital worlds, identity development and general life inspirations and observations. I also volunteer a lot for my fraternity and multiple regional and national professional associations.

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