Career coach and author Barbara Bissonnette shares helpful advice from her forthcoming book, Asperger’s Syndrome Workplace Survival Guide: A Neurotypical’s Secrets for Success, on how to succeed in the workplace.
Why You Need a Work Buddy
Many years ago, I read that someone had figured out 200 different ways to wash dishes. This underscored that there are many different methods for achieving the same result.
This is also true in the workplace. Every organization has unique systems and processes. Even if you have the same job at a new company, there will be differences in procedures, policies, and equipment. The reporting structures may be different. Certainly the people will be, and they will have different expectations, preferences and communication styles. The company culture might also be a departure from your previous experience.
The unique way that “things get done around here” can only be learned on the job, and from your co-workers. This is why I believe that one of the most important employment success strategies you can implement is to find a “work buddy.”
A work buddy is a colleague, preferably a peer or someone in your department. This should not be your supervisor or a human resources representative. This is someone who can help you to understand and learn the many specific details about how to do your job and interact with others in the company. Sometimes, this is a formally established partnership with a designated mentor or trainer. More often, a work buddy is someone who you like and trust.
There are many benefits of having a work buddy. He can translate unspoken workplace rules for you: what is a priority, how your supervisor prefers to get information, whom you can trust and whom you should avoid. He can explain office politics—who in the organization really has power, how decisions get made, what qualities are valued, and how various departments or divisions interact.
Your buddy can also provide concrete ideas about how to work efficiently. Paul was overwhelmed by the weekly volume of patients that he had to manage in his job as a physician’s assistant. He couldn’t determine whether he was processing paperwork too slowly or simply had too many patients to see. Paul asked his buddy, a fellow physician’s assistant, to review his case-management methods. The co-worker showed Paul short cuts that saved four hours of administrative time per week.
Dan’s buddy was able to give him excellent advice about how to handle various conflicts and frustrations. Once, he stopped Dan from sending an angry email to the director of the IT department. “He talked me out of something that could really have damaged my reputation, or gotten me fired,” Dan said.
We all need a reality check from time to time, and this is another way that your work buddy can be of great value. This person can provide feedback about things such as: Is my supervisor critical of just my work, or of everyone else’s, too? Are other people confused by the new system, or it is just me? Is everyone overwhelmed or am I the only one who can’t keep up? Was that comment a joke or a put down?
Your work buddy needs to be someone whom you explicitly trust. You may or may not decide to tell him about your Asperger’s Syndrome. Signs that a co-worker will make a good work buddy include:
▪ Patience when answering your questions: they don’t say, “I’m surprised you don’t know that;” or “It’s obvious;” or “Weren’t you paying attention?”
▪ Volunteering information that is important for you to know, such as: things that annoy your supervisor, who is trustworthy, or who to go to with questions.
▪ Introducing you to other people in the company.
▪ Making sure that you are invited to lunches with your department or team members, or to social events outside the office.
Once you have identified a colleague with these characteristics, it is not necessary to ask that he or she become your work buddy. This will happen naturally over time. Be careful not to overwhelm this person with too many questions and requests for advice. Build the relationship through interaction and becoming friendly.
Express gratitude for the assistance you receive: “Thanks, Bill, for filling me in on the situation with Steve.” Be alert for ways to reciprocate, such as offering to pitch in if your buddy has a lot of work, bringing him a cup of coffee, or taking him to lunch. You do not need to “keep score,” that is, do something for the person every time he does something for you. If you are uncertain of appropriate ways to show appreciation, talk the situation over with someone outside of work.
Excerpted from Asperger’s Syndrome Workplace Survival Guide: A Neurotypical’s Secrets for Success, © 2013, Barbara Bissonnette. Coming in May from Jessica Kingsley Publishers.