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Truth 2 Act Dumb and Think Dirty: the Less You Say, the More You Learn

Kids growing up in tough neighborhoods quickly learn to "act dumb and think dirty." Mouthing off might make an older, tougher kid think you're a "wise guy." So you keep your mouth shut ("act dumb") and trust no one ("think dirty"). In the meantime, you watch and listen, checking out how others behave, testing their integrity, working out how you fit into the mix.

Such tactics serve adults equally well in any new organizational neighborhood. The less you say when you start a job, the better you position yourself to learn about the organization and how it works, and your new colleagues and how they work together. The early days should be about listening and observing while giving away as little as possible. After all, you don't know who's who or what's what.

Acting dumb doesn't mean being sullen or reticent so that people think you are shy or rude, but it does mean not volunteering opinions or information unless asked and, when you are asked, keeping your response to a minimum. You don't want to shoot your mouth off and then find out you've trampled on someone's sacred cow about how business should be conducted. So take part in day-to-day easy conversation, but keep your ideas to yourself.

It's a good idea to have some pat answers to standard questions worked out, like where you came from and how you like working in the new company. But keep these short and sweet: the kind of 30-second "elevator speeches" you might offer a stranger between floors. You don't want to reveal a lot about yourself until you are comfortable with your coworkers and their way of thinking. Once you've given your answer, you can politely ask the other person questions about how things are done "around here," building your knowledge of how the company operates.

Now, what about "thinking dirty?" You may think this sounds a bit paranoid. Well, don't! See it as maximizing your opportunities. In those early days, you have the privilege of checking out your coworkers and thinking about how to work with them in the best possible way. You need to be prepared to think the worst, particularly of those with whom you will have to work closely. Take advantage of being the silent person in the room to observe and listen to your colleagues in different circumstances. Then actively process and question the "data" you collect. This intelligence-gathering will help you know who you can trust and will help you prepare strategies for dealing with those about whom you're not so sure.

There are key things to look out for. Do your colleagues badmouth people who are not in the room? If so, be aware that they might do that to you. Do they reveal things about the business that are confidential? If they do, it's possible that they'll let your own thoughts and ideas slip. Do they change what they say with different people? If so, it may be hard to know if what they tell you is the whole story or just the part they want you to hear.

"Act dumb and think dirty" is a savvy tactic to protect yourself at work. It's useful not only when you start a new job, but also on a daily basis. Bring it into play whenever you need time to figure out a new situation.

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