Choose who you sit next to

My office has a fairly open floorplan, and though our (large) desks have short walls, none of the space feels as closed in as a traditional cubicle. This makes it easy to chat with coworkers and figure out if the person I need to talk to is actually at their desk before I walk over there. But of course, the easiest people to talk to are the ones you sit right next to.

Despite being one of the newest employees to the company (I’ve been here just over 3 months), my desk happens to be right next to one of the most senior people at the company. Sometimes, that doesn’t mean much. We’re both often busy and may not get a chance to say more than cheerful greetings throughout a work day. However, when there are brief stretches of more flexible time, we’ll often talk.

Sometimes it’s about personal lives, but more often it’s about work. I’ve been able to help out with big-name clients and learn way more about the business and the company than I would have picked up otherwise. It’s opened my eyes to how things work, and made me feel more valued and empowered in my position.

The best ways I’ve found to capitalize on that opportunity are to:

  • Listen well. People are funny in that a lot of them will tell you more simply for the fact that you’re listening. Listening thoughtfully and carefully (and knowing when not to eavesdrop!) is a really underrated skill.
  • Ask good questions. This will not only show that you’ve been listening, but show that you care about the work and/or the company, and that you’re invested in both its growth and your own.
  • Offer any value you can. This might be offering to run a quick errand for them on your way somewhere, but it’s better if it has to do with what your job is. My work involves editing and writing, so I ensure that I can make a little time to help out my desk buddy or anyone else who needs it with small favors like fine-tuning an email.

Of course, it’s a two-way street. One day you’ll hopefully have the opportunity to be on the other end of this opportunity. Here are the things you can do from a more senior position, to assist and mentor a younger colleague:

  • Learn names, learn people. Treat colleagues like they are not just valuable, but valued. Speaking to people by name and with respect builds credibility and likability faster than just about anything else.
  • Bring them in where you can. Ask their thoughts on something you’re working on, or for their help if it would be useful. This allows them an opportunity to succeed on a small scale, which builds their confidence and experience, while also fostering investment in their career at your company.
  • Level with them. Everyone loves to be in the loop, and the more open communication can be across an organization, the better it is for everyone. Of course, this should still be kind and professional, but it will also help the newer person feel like a respected and valued member of the team.

We don’t always get to choose where we sit, of course. My desk was assigned to me and I happened to get lucky. But if you aren’t sitting in an advantageous spot, there are other ways to forge positive connections. You can do things like ask a more experienced colleague to grab coffee, sit with coworkers you don’t know as well for lunch, or ask thoughtful questions when you’re already talking to your boss.

What are the best ways you’ve found to learn from more experienced coworkers? Let me know in a comment below, on Twitter @ohgrowup, or Instagram @oh.grow.up! Thanks for reading, and happy adulting!

(Photo is a free stock photo because apparently I need to take more cityscapes.)

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