The need to adjust to new surroundings can present itself at any stage of one's life. At New Jersey SEEDS, one of our areas of expertise is helping students transition to new environments. We have worked with students from Newark and Trenton as they head off to boarding school in the mountains of Vermont and prepared first generation college graduates as they get ready for jobs on Wall Street. The lessons we've learned are applicable whenever a change in situations occurs.
Adapting to a new set of cultural expectations and social norms - while staying true to your own sense of self - is never easy. Below are a few tips to make the transition a smooth one.
1) Learn as much as you can about your new environment in advance. If you're starting a new job, study the website and any published materials (annual reports, brochures, magazine articles, etc.) you can find. Learn the names of those in leadership positions - executives, board members, and major stakeholders. Familiarize yourself with the stated values and language of the organization.
2) Decide what three qualities you want to be known for. For instance, you might want to be known for being upbeat, hardworking and a go-getter. Or you might prefer to be known for being calm, considerate, and detail-oriented. This is a basic rule of "personal branding." Being certain of your three top qualities will allow you to establish a strong platform early on.
3) Be polite to everyone. The person you push past may turn out to be the person who sits in next to you. The receptionist you ignore now may someday be your boss. Courtesy will pay you back with rich rewards.
4) On the first day of a new job, if no one invites you to lunch, ask someone for tips on where to eat. Just as you may feel uncomfortable with your new colleagues, they may feel uncertain about you. Or they may have forgotten what it feels like to be the new person on the block. A little reminder that you don't know your way around can elicit warmth and support (and maybe a friend for lunch!).
5) Listen for opportunities to connect and then share relevant information about yourself. If football comes up and you have season tickets, let people know. If the water cooler topic is baking cookies and you make a mean chocolate chip, share it (better yet, bake some and bring them in). Don't wait to be asked about yourself. It's your job to establish rapport.
6) During the first few weeks, take nothing personally. Most of us are on the lookout for personal slights and offenses 24/7. Instead, give people the benefit of the doubt. They don't know you well enough to dislike you, and they are probably way too busy with their own lives to think about you much anyway.
7) If someone makes a remark that you find too insensitive to ignore, speak up. Open the lines of communication with that individual to express your concern. But remember, you've probably made one or two insensitive remarks in your own lifetime too, so keep your cool and remember that it is always wise to give others the benefit of the doubt.
8) Try to speak at the same volume as those in your new environment. If it comprises loud, boisterous types, staying quiet can easily set you apart. On the other hand, if it tends to be more subdued, a loud voice may grate on the nerves. Studies show that people respond best to others who speak at the same volume as themselves. Your vocal volume is something you can control, so pay attention to it.
9) If the transition involves a move to a new city, state, or country, get out and explore. The more you know your way around, the more comfortable you will feel.
10) Transitions are stressful, so make sure you take care of yourself. Get plenty of rest, eat well and exercise. Now is not the time to crash in the middle of the day from too much sugar or not enough sleep. You want to be alert, refreshed and ready to go.