7 Ways to Get Career Advice from Colleagues (Without Gossiping)

Two coworkers sit at a table and smile while talking


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Kayla Heisler1.16k

Starting a new job can lead to lots of trial and error, but learning the ins and outs from colleagues can make the process way less painless. Unfortunately, asking for the inside scoop sometimes leads to coworkers to dish out gossip, and getting caught up in workplace gossip is no way to begin your career with a company. Try these approaches when searching for inside advice from new colleagues:

1. Ask ‘do you’ instead of ‘do people.’

Asking a new coworker how employees in general handle things may prompt them to point out the things coworkers do incorrectly. But if you frame the conversation around what they do, they are more likely to really walk you through their own process. For example, asking “How far in advance do people ask before requesting to use vacation days?” could prompt your coworker to launch into a diatribe about inconsiderate coworkers. Asking “How far in advance do you ask before requesting to use vacation days?” is more likely to elicit a specific response. 

2. Don’t rag on your old job.

While mentioning how you completed certain processes at your former job may help you communicate what you need to learn at your new place, avoid saying anything negative about where you worked last. This opens up the door for your coworker to speak negatively about your new organization and those who work there.

3. Open with a compliment.

When addressing a coworker, starting things off in a positive light is likely to keep the conversation moving in a positive direction. Also, if they begin the interaction feeling appreciated, they are less likely to feel the need to talk about someone else negatively to make themselves look better. 

Mention something specific that you like about their work and frame your questions around it. For example, “I really like the way you organize your presentations. Would you mind giving me some tips?”

4. Be direct.

If there’s something you want to know specifically about the way something works, just ask! Asking precise questions will let your coworkers know how exactly they can help you. If you start off speaking in abstractions, they may incorrectly believe that you’re looking for gossip or a more personal conversation.

5. Steer the conversation away from gossip.

If a coworker derails the conversation and begins talking down about other colleagues or getting into details that you do NOT want to know, refocus the conversation back toward what you were asking. For instance, instead of asking questions about the gossip, say something along the lines of “I’m sorry, I still don’t understand X, so you’re saying…”

6. Avoid making it seem like someone deserves blame.

If the reason why you need advice is because something was not clearly explained to you (or something was not explained at all), try asking the person who gave you instructions to clarify or teach you what you need to know in a different way. If you’re still not certain about what you need to know and seek out another coworker, do not mention the name of the person who initially gave you instructions. Rather than telling your coworker that you received unclear instructions, ask them if they can provide information about what you need assistance with.

7. Ask what resources are available.

If you ask about what training or software you want to familiarize yourself with, that clues your colleague in that you need information about something specific. This will lead them to see that you are focused on getting information for the job and not something outside of it. 

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Kayla Heisler is an essayist and Pushcart Prize-nominated poet. She is a contributing writer for Color My Bubble. Her work appears in New York's Best Emerging Poets 2017 anthology.