For all their infinite wisdom, bosses don’t always give instructions with maximum clarity. Sooner or later, you’ll get an assignment that’ll leave you scratching your head, and if everyone around you seems to know what’s going on, that can be a very uncomfortable feeling.
There are ways out of this pickle, though, and in a terrific Daily Muse post titled “5 Ways to Handle Being Completely Lost at Work (That Won’t Make You Look Bad),” writer and The Prospect co-founder Lily Herman outlines some proven methods. Her first tip is to “fake it ’til you make it,” or act like you know the score until you can figure out what’s what. As Herman explains, it’s common to be given a ton of information at the beginning of a project that you won’t need until later on. Smile, nod, pretend you’re A-OK and cycle back once you’ve had time to process everything.
Herman’s next tip: Be willing to say “I don’t know.” It’s totally fine to raise your hand and cop to being lost, she says, with a couple of caveats. First, you should be specific and say things like, “I was following you through XYZ, but then…” Second, it sometimes pays to take a minute or two and try to work things out on your own before speaking up. The answer might pop into your head before you need to ask.
Speaking of asking, it might be easier to get clarity if you follow tip No. 3 and “find a buddy.” It’s great to have someone in the office you can turn to in situations like this, though Herman again cautions about being too fast and free with your questions. Limit yourself to two asks per day, and don’t bug people when they’re busy.
On a related note, Herman’s next tip is to “prioritize questions that need answering.” Instead of bombarding someone with a list of 20 questions, focus on things that are urgent and important.
Finally, Herman suggests you “schedule regular check-in times.” Communication is vital in the workplace, and it can be extremely useful to meet with coworkers and managers at specified intervals and make sure everyone knows the score. Even in these days of constant connectivity and communication, people fall out of sync, and there’s often no substitute for good old-fashioned face time.