The Best Work Advice I Ever Received – Reader Top 10 List

I recently asked readers to share the best advice they’ve ever received about how to succeed at work. Here are my favorite tips from readers about doing well at your job and getting along well with your manager and coworkers.

1. When you’re the expert, talk like one

“When you are the expert, talk like you are the expert. Don’t be overly deferential or modify your statements with things like “I think” or “Maybe…” when you are talking to people who are in peers or are ranked higher in the organization.

This advice was from my boss in my first corporate job after years in publishing, to encourage me to be more assertive. I’m a woman, I was younger than everyone else on the team, and I was often in a position of having to tell our IT team — all older than me and 95% male — how I wanted things on our website. They wouldn’t always follow my directions exactly or in a timely fashion; instead they would follow their own opinions and regard my instructions as advice. When I started sounding more direct and assertive, they had more respect for my experience and my projects were done to my specifications and timeline.”

2. Praise publicly and criticize privately

“Praise publicly, criticize privately. You will need, at some point, to get cooperation and work out of someone who does not report to you, whose boss does not take an interest in your work, whose department does not give a rat’s butt about your department. If you cannot get people who do not report to you to work with you, you will be dead in the water.”

3. You’re the average of the people you spend time with

“Someone once told me, ‘You are the average of the 6 people you spend the most time with.’ Professionally, I took this to heart and made a point of networking with not only people who are generally successful, but also people who exhibit the kind of work habits I know I need to emulate.”

4. Never be good at anything you don’t want to do

“Never be good at anything you don’t want to do. Tongue somewhat in cheek — of course, as a junior person you have to get good at the grunt work before you’ll be given more interesting tasks. But as a general rule — the better you get at something, the more you’ll be asked to do it. The way to make sure your niche is what you want it to be is to make sure you’re best at those things!”

5. Don’t present problems without solutions

“When you present your boss with a problem, also come in with as much knowledge as possible and potential solutions. If I’m talking to a superior about a case, I need to have read the entire file – even stuff that may not seem completely germane to my question – so that I can answer his questions and have an informed discussion about the issues of the case. (Sometimes doing this will resolve what you saw as a potential problem anyway.) If I do have a problem, I explain the problem and the potential solutions, i.e., I can do A, B, or C with this. Doing this saves your boss time and helps you get a better result, because often they were thinking about/working on something else or don’t know/remember the specifics of your project. I’ve used this strategy in multiple workplaces and found that it helps both me and my bosses.”

6. Find things interesting

“If you don’t find something interesting, it’s your job to find something about it that interests you. My mom gave me this advice when I was in university (and bored by required courses). But, it became excellent career advice for me down the road, and opened a lot of doors.”

7. Own your mistakes and then move on

“If you make a mistake, own it and move on. Don’t try to hide it or its impact.  Don’t blame others.  Take responsibility.  Then stop obsessing over it. It happened, you learned from it, and you’re past it.”

8. Align your emotional energy with your priorities in life

“The best advice I ever got was: Force rank the activities and people in your life. For example, maybe your kids are 1, parents 2, friends 3, employees 4 … boss 10. Then, work to ensure that your time and emotional energy expenditure are aligned with that ranking. If my boss ranks a 10 and I react to something with a very high emotional energy level (high stress, etc.), then I’m using emotional energy that I should be expending on my kids on my boss. My mentor told me that I’m essentially ‘stealing’ emotional energy from the important people in my life by overreacting to my boss.

This structure helps me keep my emotional energy and time expenditure in alignment with my priorities. So when I start to react to something, I ask myself if it makes sense or am I overreacting based upon my priorities. As a part of this structure, I found myself reducing the number of hours at work and increasing the amount of time with my kids.

Amazingly enough, this exercise helped me succeed far more at work because I’m more consistent and steady at work. I get more done and I’m more trusted because I don’t overreact very often. I’m also happier and comfortable with where I am with my job. It was very hard to implement, but very worth it!”

9. Be responsive

“My former boss’s very successful father once told me 90% of professional success is returning all your calls and emails. He was exaggerating a bit, but it was good advice because it can be easy to ignore certain requests, emails, or calls from people. And if you make the effort to respond to everything, you’re way ahead of most professionals who tend to ignore a lot.”

10. Work will still be here tomorrow

“‘It will all still be here tomorrow,’ said by a former boss (a big deal VP at a big company), looking at a giant pile of work I was frantically attacking on a Friday night. It was good advice because it was a dose of reality from an extremely hardworking person, that there is no such place as ‘done.’ Her point at the time was that I should get some rest because the world won’t end if I don’t finish XYZ tonight. But what I learned from it was perspective, focus, and strategy. You can wear yourself out trying to cross an ever-retreating finish line, or you can figure out how to approach your work in a meaningful way that addresses what you’re really trying to do.”

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What’s the best work advice you ever received? Let us know, below, then head on over to The Worst Work Advice You Ever Received to see what horrors your peers have shared with you.













Alison Green

Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.

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