Some of my colleagues think I’m brave when I told my boss upfront that I needed a few days off of work for personal reasons. There’s nothing courageous about what I did. I just asked for my right as an employee, as an individual. To my new colleagues, however, it seemed unnatural —though in a good way. Not only did I impress them but I’ve also inspired them to an extent.
These colleagues I refer to aren’t long-term experienced folks. They’re the latest batch of graduates, fresh out of college their parents paid for, just learning to live on their own for the first time.
To them, it’s a big deal that I can walk up to my manager and speak my mind without offending him or sparking vengeance. The first time this happened, they sent me a chat message declaring how impressive I had been speaking up the way I had done. I couldn’t help the laughter in my head.
Almost four years ago, I was in the same place they now are. I was so terrified about speaking to my then-manager that I’d avoid eye contact on purpose. If I see him chatting with someone else anywhere near my place, I’d take a long detour from the vending machine just so I could avoid him. I’d crouch low on my seat risking a lifetime of backache and soreness so that he doesn’t see me. Apart from the fact that he’s 20 years older than I am, he’s just a normal guy. I needn’t have worried one bit about what he thought of me or what he’d say about my preferences.
Now, however, I don’t care. I am more assertive of my opinions. But I’m also aware of the implications — I’ve learned to grow in such a way that I can now voice my thoughts without hurting anyone or my stance in the team. I’ve at last learnt to navigate the corporate world without hitting too many pillars.
Musing on how my current behaviour appears to new interns and team members, I realised that this change swept over me only about a year ago. I sat at work like on any other day, staring into my laptop like everyone else. All of a sudden, a conversation ruffled in my team, and a few moments later, I realised that my manager (not the same as four years ago) and a team mate were discussing attending a conference for which we had received free sponsorship passes.
Our manager revealed that he didn’t want to go. He sounded casual about it, too. He’s more dedicated than anyone else I know, but he doesn’t flaunt it where it’s not necessary.
I wanted to go, instead. I had heard of that event before and had wished I could visit. And here I had a chance, but I let it slip away because I was too scared to ask.
If I had asked, I could’ve gone. My manager would’ve agreed in an instant. And I know I would’ve enjoyed that conference. That’s when I learnt my lesson. It always hurts more not to ask and regret than to ask upfront. They may say no, sure, but what if they don’t say no?
Now I’m more vocal about my opinions. Most of my team has counter opinions and we’ll debate it out. But at the end of the day, we’ll leave happy that we’ve conveyed our thoughts. The more I voiced my requests and opinions, the more I realised that my team and manager prefer it. We now encourage open conversations, regardless of which party ends stronger.
That’s the essence of good work culture. Knowing that I can speak up, share a coffee break with the boss and still have a genuine interaction is what makes me want to wake up every morning, looking forward to work.