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  • Kim Meninger

Understanding the Unspoken Rules at Work

Updated: May 12, 2023

Understanding the Unspoken Rules at Work

In this episode of the Impostor Syndrome Files, we explore how the unspoken rules at work undermine our confidence and overall performance in the workplace. Many of us who excelled in academic environments with clear rubrics struggle to navigate our workplaces without a transparent set of clear expectations. My guest, Gorick Ng, author of The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, shares his personal journey with the unspoken rules and how he came to deconstruct them so that others can avoid similar pain and frustration.

About Gorick Ng:

Gorick Ng is the Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, a book published by Harvard Business Review Press named by Thinkers50 as one of the top 10 management books of 2022.

It is a guide to help early career professionals, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, navigate the school-to-work transition and ascend to positions of leadership, based on 500+ interviews with professionals across geographies, industries, and job types.

The Unspoken Rules has been endorsed by Arianna Huffington, Cal Newport (Author of Deep Work), David Carey (Former Global President of Hearst Magazines), Edith Cooper (Board Director of Slack and Etsy and Former Global Head of Human Capital Management of Goldman Sachs), Ginni Rometty (Former Executive Chairman of IBM), Julie Zhuo (Former VP of Product Design of Facebook), Rich Lesser (CEO of BCG), and Ratan Tata (Former Chairman of Tata Group).

The Unspoken Rules is now used for employee and manager training and diversity and inclusion at companies such as Aon, GE, IBM, Kirkland & Ellis, Charles River Associates, Abiomed, Invesco, and others. It is also used by programs such as Questbridge, Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America, Rewriting the Code, ACE Women’s Collective, SEO,, and others. Harvard Business School has also given Gorick’s book to every MBA student to give them an edge in the labor market.

Gorick is a career adviser at Harvard College, specializing in coaching first-generation, low-income students. He has worked in management consulting at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), investment banking at Credit Suisse, and research with the Managing the Future of Work project at Harvard Business School. He has been featured in Forbes, The Today Show, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed, New York Post, Fast Company, Fortune Magazine, and CNBC. He was named by Thinkers50 as one of 30 thinkers to watch in 2022. Gorick, a first-generation college student, is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School. Find him at ~

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Kim Meninger Welcome, Gorick. I am so excited to have this conversation with you today. I know you and I have been chatting over time. And I’m really excited to bring this to a listening audience. So before we jump into the meat of it, I’d love to invite you to introduce yourself.

Gorick Ng Sounds great. And Kim, I’m so glad that we’re finally having this conversation. I feel like you and I are on the same wavelength about so many topics. So just really glad to be here. Thanks for having me. I’ll start my intro way back when I was 14 years old and ended up writing my mom’s and my own first resume. My mom was laid off from her sewing machine factory job. And I, as the person who knew how to get onto the Internet, who knew how to speak English, became a person to go online, look for templates, copy and paste and apply to hundreds of jobs on her behalf. And this, I start off as my, as really the start of my story. Because it was then that I realized that wow, there’s so much that school doesn’t teach you and that no one really tells you about how to work the system, how to navigate the system. Because I applied to hundreds of jobs then and I ended up getting zero callbacks. And it wasn’t until I became a college student, a first-generation low-income college student at Harvard, that I started realizing that so many of my peers had this informal education growing up on how to put themselves out there, how to work the system, that I was never taught grown-up things about networking, about putting yourself out there, about saying the right things, the right person at the right time in the right sequence, asking for referrals, asking for coffee chats, all of those things weren’t apparent to me until I arrived in the workplace when I started realizing those who get pulled into high profile assignments weren’t necessarily the most competent. They were the ones who are known. And you have to be known to be remembered. And you have to be remembered to be rewarded and promoted. And it was then that I realized, wow, what if I could deconstruct what so many of us learn through trial and error into a step-by-step how-to guide? And that’s what inspired me to eventually become an author and write a book called “The Unspoken Rules” to hopefully demystify some of these quote, unquote, unspoken rules of how to navigate your career.

Kim Meninger I love that story so much. And so appreciate the distinction you make between people who have been, sort of, I think of it as like marinating in this because they had the privilege of having parents who’ve been in this world for a while. And then there are others, and I would include myself in this population as well, who really just figured it out as they went along, and often in painful ways. And what’s fascinating to me about the way that you’re describing it, and I’m sure that it wasn’t always painless for you, but the way that I’m picturing you approaching this is very much from the balcony. Like what, what’s interesting is that I think a lot of people who are in a situation where they feel this disconnect, or this sense of anxiety, when I don’t know how the system works, would often translate that into I don’t belong in this system, not necessarily to look at it through that more holistic lens of maybe it’s the system, right? Or maybe there’s another way to think about the system. So do you, did you consciously think about it that way? Or do you have a sense as to what your mindset was, at the time when you started to realize these things?

Gorick Ng I’d say the moment that all of this pain and struggle and trial and error came to the forefront was when I returned to Harvard as a career advisor. And it was an interesting look at the first-generation, low-income college student experience, because I was, for the first time, coming back as an advisor versus the person who’s going through the system. And it was then that I met a student who told me that he felt like he had just arrived at a hockey game with a baseball bat. So he was swinging and swinging and swinging, not realizing that he was playing a very different game than everybody else. And it was that one conversation that led me to realize, Oh, my goodness, that’s exactly how I felt coming in to the college system. entering my first job. Feeling like everyone else were feeling like everybody else was playing hockey while I was playing baseball.

Kim Meninger Hmm, that’s a really great way to capture it. I’m sure people listening are thinking, wow, that’s my story. You talk about this idea of deconstructing like, what did it actually involve for you to think about it in this way?

Gorick Ng Frankly, it wasn’t a process to start. It was just a series of, frankly, venting sessions when I first began. So, I remember my first job I would spend a lot of my nights and weekends asking questions, but really venting to friends, asking questions like, is, is adulting really meant to be this hard? That is, it just meant to be? Or is it just a fact of life that nothing we learned in school or very little of what we learned in school is actually what’s useful in the real world? And what managers expect of us is often what’s not communicated to us. And one venting session led to another, led to another, led to another until I started realizing, Oh, wow, it didn’t matter that you worked in insurance, or health care or higher ed, or you were working as a plumber. We were all, as early career professionals, facing the same things. And the, the meme that I feel like encapsulated how we all felt was this meme online with a manager speaking to an employee and the caption reads, “I can’t believe you forgot to start the thing that I forgot to tell you to do.” And that just really spoke too well, so much of what’s expected of us is never actually communicated to us. And it’s up to us to read between the lines. And a chapter in my book is called Read between the People to understand what people are really expecting of us.

Kim Meninger And I think when we talk about impostor syndrome, or we talk about self-doubt more generally, so much of that is rooted, and you and I were talking about this a little bit before we hit record, in this anxiety around how do I do this the right way? I mean, so many of us were so motivated in our academic years to get an A, to get the highest GPA we could get to make sure that we were making our teachers and professors happy. And now we find ourselves in this system where we don’t get adequate, effective feedback. Most of the time, we aren’t taught a lot of the things that, like you said, are expected of us. And we look around and we see other people that, to our minds, aren’t really performing as well or as aren’t as committed as we are getting ahead and getting these opportunities that we feel like we should be the ones to get. And so it creates this sense of maybe I don’t belong here, maybe it’s me, maybe I’m doing something wrong. And I don’t know how to process that because there isn’t anything to really wrap my arms around. So your book is fascinating in that it actually does give us something to wrap your arms around. Like how did you get from this, just this very general experience that so many of us have to here’s the step-by-step process for how to tackle it?

Gorick Ng It began with one interview followed by another, followed by another until I ended up interviewing over 500 professionals across geographies, industries, and job types, from Uber drivers, to nurses, to professors, to architects, to paper mill machine operators. So it, it took a lot of these conversations for me to one, see the differences across different working contexts, but more importantly, see the commonalities. And certainly one of the commonalities is, no matter where you are, what’s expected of you is not communicated to you explicitly. The second thing that was apparent to me was a framework that took some time to uncover but that now has since become the basis of my book, and it’s the framework that I call the three C’s. And it stands for competence, commitment, and compatibility. Where when you show up as a professional, it doesn’t matter what industry or job type you’re in, the people around you are sizing you up, and they’re asking themselves three questions. The first question is the question of are you, can you do this job? Well, which is the question of are you competent? The second question is, are you excited to be here and to grow with us? Which is the question of are you committed? And the third question is the question of do we get along? Which is the question of, are we compatible? So are you competent? Are you committed? And are you compatible? The three C’s of your job, frankly, all of our jobs, including the CEO of an organization, is to convince the people around them to answer yes to all three questions all the time. And so it’s interesting to hear you use the word committed earlier because, depending on the organization, what it takes to express competence, commitment, and compatibility can be very different. So I remember interviewing, for example, a cashier at a cinema, and you’d think that in a job like that, it’s all about counting the right change, making sure you show up to your shift on time, but this individual ended up being perceived as someone who was uncommitted to their role. Why? Well, it’s because in between shifts, this individual didn’t take the time to interact and to socialize with their co-workers. And this wasn’t as a result of them not being committed, it’s just that they didn’t realize that actually being a team player, quote, unquote, which also speaks to compatibility, was very much based on not just putting your head down and doing the job that’s expected of you. But it’s, there’s also this hidden expectation that you’ll be interacting and get, getting to know your co-workers. And what this looks like depends on the organization. But it’s important, no matter where you are, to uncover what it looks like and sounds like to express competence, commitment and compatibility.

Kim Meninger I love that you have a framework for thinking about it. Because as you’re saying that, I’m thinking about all of the people that I work with, especially, you know, the achievers who are so focused on the competence piece, and that, when you’re in that mindset of I want to perform at the highest level, I want to prove myself, there’s so much focus on just doing the work, and then that commitment and compatibility maybe inadvertently fall by the wayside or don’t feel as high priority in a life that’s full of other responsibilities, right. And so I think it’s so important that you frame that as a series of things that we need to demonstrate and not just that one, like, can I do the job piece of it.

Gorick Ng Right. And to further add some, some complexity, but hopefully some nuance to this three C’s framework. These three C’s don’t exist as a binary. So it’s not a matter of are you committed or not, it’s actually on a spectrum, where it’s important to express the right dose of commitment, while not overshooting the mark, and coming across as threatening, or as wanting to take your coworker’s job. So one of these unspoken rules of the workplace is to step up without overstepping. And what this means is looking left, looking right, uncovering something that others haven’t done yet. So what I think of as an unoccupied swim lane, and then volunteering to occupy that swim lane. But first making sure that it’s unoccupied. So I have another story in my book of this individual who worked at a community center and who noticed that the storage room was a total mess. What this individual did was well, out of just their free time, go in there and start cleaning up the place. And you’d think that this person is taking initiative, they’re showing, they’re showing commitment. Until the supervisor, I believe the Operations Coordinator, came by and ended up huffing and puffing because this was their responsibility, even though they weren’t doing this job all that well. They were completely neglecting the closet, they still saw it as their swim lane. And so this individual’s good intent ended up coming across as well, negative impact. So it’s important to be committed, but not so committed. And that also depends on where you work and who you’re around.

Kim Meninger So when you describe that, the first word that comes into my mind is politics, right? I think that when you’re in the workplace, there is that territoriality or that sensitivity around some of these things. And it’s easy to come into a situation with enthusiasm, with new ideas and to think, Oh, I’ve got the answer to this problem. I’ll just come right in and not necessarily be thoughtful of well, who’s whose responsibility is it today? Or why hasn’t it been addressed yet? Or who thinks they own this? Right? So what would your suggestion be for how to ferret out that information?

Gorick Ng Yeah, and this speaks to compatibility as well, where when you’re new to a team, new to an organization, you almost need to do what a CEO is expected to do, which is to go around and do one on ones with each of your co-workers. And to ask them, hey, what are the things that are at the top of your priority list over the next three months, six months? Tell me more about your work. How can I be helpful? And you might think of this as something that a CEO might put in their to-do list in their first 100 days, they might go on this listening tour or someone who’s new to public office might do this with their constituents. But this is actually just as important for an individual if you want to build trust and unlock opportunity. So as part of these conversations, what you’ll quickly understand, hopefully, is this, is this individual’s formal responsibilities. This is their informal set of responsibilities. This is who’s who, this is who’s loyal to whom and this is how, this is the space I’m supposed to occupy. And this is the unoccupied swim lane that I can potentially take on all of this. No one will tell you, you have to go around introducing yourself to people, and really getting to know them, in order for you to uncover these answers yourself. In an ideal world, you’re doing this early enough so that you can avoid some of these, some of these, for lack of a better word, landmines that can come your way after you’re not so new.

Kim Meninger Yeah, I use that word all the time, too. I think it’s a perfect way to capture the potential of, you know, making a misstep when you’re in that moment. And I think that, that it’s also, you know, I know, obviously, the earlier the better, but also for anybody who’s listening and thinking, Oh, no, I’m in the middle of a job that I’ve had for a while, it’s never too late. I don’t think like… I always often think about this too, as an opportunity when you’re starting a new project, or you’re changing your responsibilities in some way. Whenever there’s a change introduces a new opportunity to do what I call is like reintroducing yourself and sort of re-establishing what are the rules or ground rules of how we’re going to be working together. And so I would imagine that these kinds of conversations could be perfect for those types of dynamic shifts.

Gorick Ng I love the idea of reintroducing yourself and it, it very nicely aligns with advice that I’d heard from a senior attorney that I had interviewed for my work. I actually ended up speaking at this corporate law firm as part of their new associate onboarding and training program on how to step up without overstepping and how to be proactive in the world where no one actually tells you the formula to being proactive. And what this individual told me about was, well, one, no one actually teaches you how to be a lawyer, they teach you how to think about the law in law school. That was the first thing and it seems like every law firm and every experienced attorney has since told me that as well. But more specific to the situation, in school, you are handed your grades on a periodic basis. So you just have to look at the top, let’s say right-hand corner of your assignment to see where you are. If there’s a curve in your class, that’s often shared as well of which percentile you’re in. So you basically know whether you’re on track. However, in the workplace, that’s often not going to be shared with you, even though how you’re really performing is something people are thinking about on a daily basis. It just might not be written. It’s just, it just exists in the minds of the people around you. And what the senior attorney told me was, one, you have to ask for feedback. But we often hear that advice. More specifically, though, it’s important to ask for advice, during and after every assignment, deliverable, or project. So at this law firm, it’s, you’re probably not going to get all that useful a set of feedback if you went up to an attorney and said, you have any feedback for me? Often, the easy answer is gonna be no, you’re doing great, even though that may not be true. The key of getting specific feedback is to say, how do you think that meeting went? I feel like maybe I could have spoken up more, or I could have explained this topic better. What are your reactions? So giving people a sense of how you’re self-reflecting opens the door for others to react as well. In the military, people might call this an after-action review an AAR. For example, well, that’s something that you have to take, take control of, in every project, to say, how do you think that went, I feel like I could have done better in these areas, would love to get your reactions. And in law, but I would say that this is true for every profession, your feedback often will be task-based versus sort of more broadly. So coming back to law or anywhere where you’re working, for example, on the Microsoft suite of Excel or PowerPoint or Word, you’re actually getting feedback. It’s in the form of margin comments or track changes. And so even though you’re not getting formal feedback, you’re getting feedback, nevertheless. And there’s this unspoken expectation that whatever people ask you to do, this prior time, they’re going to expect that you’ll apply for every future time. So I have, this also happened with a sales leader that I spoke to who invited some of his interns to a number of sales calls, expecting but not verbalizing that, hey, when I invite you to this meeting, what I’m really expecting you to do is listen, take notes, observe how I sell so that you can do it on your own next time. And so fast forward several weeks, the sales leader ended up saying to one of the interns hey, how about you lead the call, at which point the intern thought and said what do I do? And that led to, of course, the misunderstanding of well, why do you think I brought you to all those meetings? So that’s also something that, unfortunately, could have been mitigated if we just talked about it.

Kim Meninger And that actually leads me to a question that I don’t know if you have an answer to but I’m sure you have thoughts is, you’ve talked to so many people about this, you’ve clearly gotten a lot of data on this right? Is there a rethinking? Or is there, is there any opportunity to solve this problem by having some of the conversations that we’re not having like, is anyone thinking about doing this from the top down, as opposed to from the bottom up? Or do you think it’s just a matter of, well, this is how I came into the system and I don’t really consciously think about this, and I’m just trying to get the work done. So I’m not really being creative about how to communicate like is, do you think it’s more so a function of people aren’t taught how to do this? Or what, why are we not solving this problem? I guess.

Gorick Ng Yeah, we’re not solving this problem because we either don’t realize just how much of a business impact this has. Or we don’t, we don’t even have the language or awareness to know that this is a problem. So I’ll first talk about the issue as it relates to the heart and then the issue as it relates to the head. So when it comes to the heart, I mean, so many of us, I hope those listening in our conversation, are flashing back to moments when they had to learn through trial and error, that the challenge is, so many of these unspoken rules are kind of like looking both ways before crossing the street. It’s not obvious when you’re in kindergarten, that it’s important. But then the minute you learn it, it just becomes second nature. And I’ll, the jargon that people often use for this is the curse of expertise, or the curse of knowledge. Which is to say that if you want to be a great tennis player, don’t learn from Serena Williams, she’s going to just say swing the bat, you need to learn from someone who is likely also at a novice level, or who understands how hard it can be to even just hold your racket correctly. That’s kind of the knowing gap. And then there’s another awareness gap as it relates to just how important this is for an organization. So what the consequence is of all the issues that we described, is slow onboarding time, low employee engagement, and low employee retention. So I’ve spoken to so many employees who will tell me, it’s my first day in my job, all I got was my email account, my direct deposit paperwork filled out, and a calendar invitation for this random thing that I’m supposed to show up at 2 pm. What’s expected of me? And then, I don’t know a soul, I don’t know what’s expected of me, I don’t even know who my manager is, let alone what’s, how I, how I get an A in this job as much as I want an A, no one’s actually given me the rubric. And that leads to the manager eventually getting, getting frustrated, because they’re looking at this individual and saying, Oh, they’re not going above and beyond. They’re not asking questions. They’re not taking ownership, they’re not taking initiative. And while this speaks to what you just referred to as well, this is not just an individual problem, this is not just a matter of self-help, this is a matter of leaders needing to do more, all of us needing to help. And what ends up happening is leaders just as a consequence of them expressing, needing to express competence and commitment to their superiors, neglecting the people that report to them. And so what they don’t realize is actually speaking these unspoken rules can help your employees get up to speed more quickly, actually know what the heck you’re expecting them to do on a daily basis, understand that doing your job is only part of your job, going above and beyond is actually the baseline expectation. And if people know, in the words of an intern, I want to get an A, I just have never been handed the rubric on how to get an A, you’ll quickly realize that actually your employees will perform better. And if they perform better, they’ll feel better about themselves and their place in your organization. And if all of these come together, they’re probably also more likely to stay in your organization long term too. People just don’t maybe make the connection between speaking these unspoken rules and the bottom line.

Kim Meninger That is so important. And that leads me to a question around the sort of diversity and inclusion aspect of this problem that we’re talking about because, because I think that if the experience were universal, it would probably be different. But because there’s certain people who, by virtue of their demographics or by virtue of their connections, or whatever the case may be the, the legacy of having grown up in families where they have been taught some of this, they may have access in different ways that they don’t even realize is different from the access that other people have. And so what it creates is, I’m gonna go back to like the idea of the myth of the meritocracy, right of like, well, some people get it. So why doesn’t everybody? If, if I can see what I’m expecting to see in, in a portion of the population, and I don’t see it in someone who maybe is first-generation, hasn’t had any of the socialization around some of this, I might assume that that’s a person that’s not committed, as opposed to assuming that that’s a person who has an opportunity, you know, there’s an opportunity there to mentor them and really bring them into the system. And so I’m curious, your thoughts on just who gets left behind. And how some of this really does perpetuate the unfairness of the system today?

Gorick Ng I’m glad you’re asking this question. And I think that those who get left behind are actually broader than we think. So if we’re thinking about corporate America at large, we can say that maybe there are those who are first-generation professionals, so the first in their families to hold a white-collar job. But if I think about my so-called audience, or who has found my content to resonate with them most, I’d say it’s actually anyone who feels like an, an outsider, to their immediate environment. So anyone who feels different from the immediate team, so I’ll give you a few examples. We often think of diversity and inclusion, as, for example, women working in a predominantly male team. I’ve actually spoken to nurses who are men, and who are working in a predominantly women-led team, in which case they feel like the outsider. Or we know that, for example, that in teaching, that there are many more women, especially at the elementary and middle school levels. And I’ve spoken to also teachers who are, who are men who find themselves in such an environment, and struggling to fit in because the conversations that are happening that they’re being had in the lunchroom are just very different. I’ve spoken with folks who are new immigrants to the United States, who feel like an outsider just because of a language barrier because they don’t know anyone because the corporate culture is different. But I’ve also spoken to Americans who’ve worked, for example, the Middle East who find themselves being the outsider. And so this really came to the forefront for me when I met my partner’s parents for the first time, they speak a different language. And I found myself using Google Translate and having to ask my partner, What do I say? How do I say it? When do I say it? And these were really casual conversations, like, how was your day or tell me about yourself. And it was at, and this was after my book had launched, where I started realizing and really reliving the stressful moment of being a new outsider to an environment where I thought to myself, Oh, my goodness, for the first time in a long time, even just saying hello is now all of a sudden a stressful, a stress-inducing experience and me having to go on to Google Translate. So for anyone who may be interacting with their in-laws, or their neighbors or their, their cousins-in-law, or what have you, and they might come from a different background, and you’re finding yourself feeling like an outsider, that’s probably the experience of someone in your organization right now. They just might be the invisible one because they feel like an outsider.

Kim Meninger That’s such a great way to think about it. I think I have two thoughts in response to that. Number one is that this is something that can be episodic in our lives. So maybe we don’t feel that way in this very moment because we’ve gotten comfortable where we are, but there’s no guarantee that we won’t be in this situation at another point in time. And so it’s important to really think about what you, what might be coming down the road and be more proactive in our thinking. The other thing I think about is the invisible people who are being left behind for you know, I don’t mean to sound disrespectful, but just to sort of characterize the people who are most impacted by this, are also probably least likely to ask for help because of that fear of, I don’t want to expose the fact that I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m really self-conscious about this. And so do you have tips? And probably the first one is read the book. But beyond that, like, do you, do you have thoughts on, if I’m the outsider, if I truly feel like an outsider, it feels that much more risky to raise my hand and say, I don’t understand this system, like, what are your thoughts on that?

Gorick Ng Well, the first thing is to realize that you’re not alone. I was just doing a session with a large Fortune, Fortune 50 tech company. And I, I asked the audience, how many times have you had an idea or a question, but you didn’t share it out of a fear that it’s a stupid question? And 90% of people said that they’ve had that experience before. So it’s a 90/10 split. So just know that you’re not alone is really the first step. The second is, and I’ve got lots of these, fill in the blanks, or Mad Libs in my book of how do you, how do you speak in these situations, and one of them is a framework that I call do and show your homework. So instead of saying, Kim, I’m confused about this. I can instead say, Kim, I’m working on this. I know this, but I’m not so sure about this. How should I be approaching it? Should I be approaching it in Option A option B, your options? See, I’m leaning towards option B, let me know if you feel differently. So I’ll unpack that to, to hopefully make it easier to apply. Where instead of just saying these are all the things I don’t know, there’s an opportunity for you to show your homework of this is what I know. So give me some credit, kind of like in school. This is what I’m not so sure about. That’s number one. And then number two is, the more that you can frame a question not as an open-ended question but as a closed-ended question, as a multiple choice question, or as a multiple choice question with a default, the more you’ll come across as, it’s true, it’s not just a matter of perception, but it’s reality as well that you’ve put some thought into this. So when it comes to asking questions, how do I define a smart question or a good question? Well, it’s a question that is framed as if you couldn’t have Googled for the answer for yourself. So this is true even for a job interview where I’d say probably the number one question that gets asked in job interviews is the question of and, by the way, this is at the end of a job interview. So you’ll inevitably, you’ll inevitably get the question of, do you have any questions for me? And I’d say probably top three questions. Number one is probably going to be, tell me about the culture of your firm. In which case, I mean, just the fact if anyone is hearing this, and maybe smiling or nodding. Well, it’s unfortunately, a question that gets asked probably the most. And it, it comes across as if it’s a generic question because you’re not doing and showing your homework. Where instead, if I said, you know, I was reading your mission statements, and I was also reading a recent press release that cited this. This really stands out to me for these reasons. This also raises the question of this. Can you tell me more about this? All of a sudden, just by definition, it’s not a stupid question because you’re showing that hey, I’ve reached the limits of what I could investigate on my own. Help me fill in the blanks.

Kim Meninger Hmm. I love that, that you’re, you’re sort of adding context to the question in a way that demonstrates that, to your point, that it’s thoughtful, right? That it is not, I hate to even say this, because I know that most people aren’t coming from this place. But it’s not lazy in terms of like, you’ve clearly demonstrated that you’ve done as much as you could have done, and now you’re bringing it to somebody who has to fill in those blanks.

Gorick Ng Right, right. Yeah, it’s all about asking, to your, to your point, a thoughtful question or a satisfying question or a well-researched question. And you don’t have to have done an exhaustive literature review, you just need to show that you’ve put in even a minimal amount of effort. So by definition, this is a good question.

Kim Meninger Yeah, that is really helpful. I think, thinking about a lot of conversations, you know, not just the asking for help. But one of the things that really stood out to me and when you and I first met, and you were doing a presentation for, you know, the Boston College women’s group was just the way in which you provide the I almost think of as like good, better best options, right? Like, you could say this, but what’s even better is if you say all of these other things, too, which is exactly what I think people are looking for, and although we’ll never have the benefit of perfect recipes for every type of situation, it does provide this really foundational level of like, you know, formulas that you can tinker around with, depending on to your point like, what does the culture value within my organization? What does my manager demonstrate in terms of their values? And then so how can I adjust this framework accordingly?

Gorick Ng Yeah. And to your earlier point about, is this just a matter of self-help, or is this also a message for leaders? I have yet to meet a leader who has told me that they don’t want people to ask questions. At the same time, I’ve also never met a leader who has told me that they want questions that people could have Googled on their own. So if we just think about what leaders and managers want, it’s to not have their time be wasted. But it’s also to make sure that things get done. So even just sharing the language of hey, let’s, let’s speak the unspoken rules. And let’s make it just a norm around here, that when you’re asking questions, it’s important to do and show your homework. That’s just, that’s the formula for getting an A around here. That will make your employees less stressed out and less anxious, just as it will do the same for you.

Kim Meninger I love that because I do always try to look at it from what’s our individual responsibility. And what’s our collective responsibility for solving the problem at a more macro level? And I think for anyone who’s listening who manages people, it’s such a great thing to think about is, am I being clear? Am I taking things for granted? Am I making assumptions about what this other person knows or understands? And to just really err on the side of, especially in the beginning, over-communicating what those expectations are. I often joke but I mean, this seriously, when I talk about impostor syndrome, I say manage your team as if everyone has impostor syndrome because most of them do, and no one will ever tell you, right? And so it’s the same thing. Assume that nobody knows these rules, that you now assume that it’s a blank slate. And you can use your own authentic style in how you communicate these and how you engage your team. But I think you’re going to end up having a much more productive, much more engaged team, if you start with the premise that they have a lot that they don’t have, there’s a lot that they don’t have access to.

Gorick Ng Hmm, I love that. I love that I have this, this framework later on in the book that speaks to best practices for delivering presentations. And one of them, one of the first things to keep in mind is assume that people don’t know what you know. [Hmm.] There are other ones as well, that might be, that are out of scope for what you just shared. For example, assume that people haven’t read what you just sent them. Assume that people don’t remember what they agreed to previously. And assume that people probably aren’t paying attention to you when you’re speaking. So there’s other things to keep in mind, which is why it’s important to tell people what you’re about to say, say it, and then remind people of what you just said. But specific to your point, it’s important to not make assumptions around what people know. Just assume that they don’t.

Kim Meninger Absolutely. And you know, I could stay here with you all day, sincerely. There’s so much more that I could ask you. But as we’re wrapping up, first of all, how can people find you? What’s, what are sort of the, the places for people to go if they want more of you and your great work?

Gorick Ng Sure thing, the best place to go is my website, which has additional resources, links to my book, links on how to engage me for speaking engagements at your organization. And of course, how to connect with me on social media, all of that is housed That’s G-O-R-I-C-K dot com. I’m active on all the different social media channels as well. Got an email list. I encourage anyone who’s interested in this topic to reach out and to stay in touch.

Kim Meninger Perfect. I’m gonna link to that in the show notes. Any final thoughts before we wrap up?

Gorick Ng Final thought is, and I’ll direct this one at individuals and then too at leaders. So for individuals, know that it’s not just about putting your head down and letting your good work speak for itself. It’s about being heard, being seen, being remembered and being rewarded. And all of those things need to be there for you to accelerate your career, to unlock opportunity, to not be invisible. And the key to doing so is to look left, look right. Observe the behaviors of those around you and to see how they’re expressing their three C’s of competence, commitment and compatibility. And my message to leaders is, look at your team, and ask yourself, who are the people who seem the quietest? Who seem the least engaged? Who seem like they just don’t get it? And assume positive intent for a moment and ask yourself, okay, no one wakes up in the morning telling themselves how can I make the life of my manager as difficult as possible? Everyone wants to do good work. Everyone wants to be their best self. Let’s just assume that for a moment. What unspoken rule do they not get that is leading them down this path of not knowing what they don’t know? And what can you as a leader do to just have a conversation with them about it? Say when I was in your shoes, this is what I encountered. These are my struggles. This is how I encountered it. Just having that conversation and sharing your own story can mean the difference between this person not only just being invisible but feeling alone and potentially being one of your high performers.

Kim Meninger I love that so much. Thank you so much, Gorick. This has been so helpful.

Gorick Ng Thank you so much, Kim, love this conversation.

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