navigating unwritten workplace rules: part 3

June 20, 2019

written by
Barbara O Stephenson

Adulting at work: Or how to become a professional and learn the unwritten rules of a working stiff

It never fails to amaze me how basic professionalism in a job seems to be a difficult task. From what you wear (impressions matter) to how you speak (would a ‘thank you’ make your tongue bleed?), there are a few basic rules that may appear to be unwritten- but should get you written up or fired if you break them.

Part 3. Show Up.

Now that you’ve read part 1 and part 2 and we’ve gotten you to the stage where you’re not getting written up, it’s time to cover the things that will make you excel.

Don’t settle and pick your battles. Do the best that you can do no matter what the situation, even if no one is watching. If you half-ass it, you’ll know.  No one can run full out for an entire day so pick the things that are most important and do those really well.  You’ll be better off in the long run if you focus on what matters- be it client facing tasks, your relationships, or getting a new title at your job-  and do that as best you can.

Sympathy. People are emotional beings and having a bit of sympathy for that goes a long way. You never know what other’s assume a project was going to do for them. Maybe it was to get a raise, or bring in new business, win awards, or just garner the praise and adoration of their peers. Usually something WAY more than just a simple project. Just because to you it’s a paycheck and a task, doesn’t mean the client or your coworker isn’t heavily invested in some way you haven’t thought about.

Forgive. No one is perfect, you sure aren’t. So instead of shaming people for forgetting a detail, missing a point, or just plain screwing up … just point it out and move on. A recent mom email equated that holding on to anger and resentment is like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. You’re the one that feels like crap. I’m not saying be a pansy and let someone take advantage of you. If someone keeps messing up, that’s a different issue. I’m saying if it’s not a regular occurrence and they genuinely overlooked something, remember that it’s in how we deal with issues that make us the people we want to work with. Forgive and move forward.

Risks. Whatever you want to say about it, make sure that you take some risks or you’ll become stuck in a rut. Ruts are very comfortable at first but when you hit the middle of your career, you’ll look back and frantically try to figure your way out of it knowing that you could have been so much better off had you tried something new along the way. Also, it helps you be seen. Volunteer for the committee or to lead a project or work with another department. Ask if you can help and it’s more likely that you’ll be remembered.

Fail and Learn. Recently a very good friend said that we spend far too much time avoiding being uncomfortable. Her point was rather than, we should learn who we are when backed into a corner. That teaches us how to navigate out of situations, rather than avoiding them altogether. No one is going to lead a simple, stress-free life so take the risk, stand up, and learn how to empower yourself with the confidence to move forward.

All of the above lead to one thing, increasing your flexibility to roll with the punches. Life is fluid and we live a really long time now. And we know that work comes in all forms- from doing the shopping for your household and taking out the garbage to putting together a design presentation. If you can be flexible in your relationships and expectations, life is going to be soooo much easier for you. And me.