As an employee at a large and diverse school county office of education (currently five schools treating students with a variety of moderate/severe disabilities) I’ve had a lot of opportunities for fresh starts and creating rapport with new coworkers; here are some things I’ve learned.
Don’t Expect Much Warmth Or Trust Right Away
When you come in as a contractor or traveler, it can be to do the grunt work, to take the hardest caseload, or to replace the wildly incompetent person who was asked to leave. Maybe you’re the first person to treat these clients after months of frustrating search for the right therapist. Maybe the families of the clients have lost all patience. This happens. Build trust slowly over whatever time you’re there—being a contractor or traveler can mean parachuting in to challenging situations, but it’s a wonderful way to develop skills. Trust and then rapport follows quickly when you’re calm, competent, and don’t take the icy reception personally.
Start Building Rapport With Support Staff
There are a lot of new people to meet. Support staff will be among the most important, particularly secretaries (and maintenance workers!). They are friendly, less stressed than most of your coworkers, and and have a wealth of knowledge about workarounds and getting things done quickly. It’s great to have someone to check in with during the day who isn’t part of the drama. (Or who has grandchildren of her own and can’t wait to coo over the cute art project one of your students just made!).
Triage Your Learning
There’s a LOT to learn on a new assignment. Prioritize learning the values of your workplace. Learn whether my section of the assessment needs to be turned in 5 days, five hours, or five minutes before the meeting-each can be functional. A big part of rapport can be making things easy on other people by doing what they expect.
Look For The Underlying Concern
When someone questions your judgment or approach, offers a correction, or gets generally in your way, it’s a good idea to think about what concern is driving their behavior. Why are they questioning your judgement? Is there something they don’t understand? Are they still feeling a little traumatized by their relationship with the previous person in that position? Are they afraid you’re making more work for them? Did someone cut them off in traffic? (I can’t guarantee they’ll all be good reasons.)
Listen More Than You Speak
When I get nervous, I talk a LOT. I’m always nervous the first few days of a new job. It’s natural to want to be helpful, suggest new approaches, possibly show off a little. Consider resisting this impulse.
“Connection Before Correction”
This terminology comes from Positive Discipline, a parent/teacher/caregiver training, but it really applies in all situations. You’re new here. People don’t know you well yet, and they don’t have a reason to trust you, least of all trust your judgment to change the dreaded “this is the way we’ve always done it.” Give it a little time. With time comes trust, connection, and a willingness to consider change.
Summer Loehr, MA CCC-SLP is a Speech and Language Pathologist and graduate of Case Western Reserve University. She works on the California Coast, mainly with children on the autism spectrum. A social media enthusiast and new blogger at www.slbeeps.com, Summer is passionate about building supportive communities for SLPs.