navigating unwritten workplace rules: part2

May 30, 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 2. Act with Purpose

Comport yourself. “Professional” or “mature’ or ‘adult” are all meaningless words. Maybe at one time, they meant something but now they are simply the labels of bygone eras and the measuring sticks for appropriate societal interactions are vague. From temper tantrum throwing presidents, to CEOs who make a ba-gillion dollars more than their workers, to people who don’t pay for interns…the world of the working stiff is filled with unethical, emotionally stunted prats. So instead, act how you want someone to treat you. Yes, I know it sounds like that facebook meme your mom sends around but be the person you want to meet….or in this case work with.

Phone. Don’t use your phone in meetings. I’ve failed this myself where I brought out my phone to take notes but forgot to mention what I was doing to the client. My staff rightly pointed out it looked like I had mentally checked out and was playing. If you’re on your phone, no matter what your intention it looks BAD. Use your laptop or pen and pencil.

Notes. OMG already!!!! Always take notes, it’s fucking basic. I’m the boss and I follow this rule. YES we live in a digital age but the act of writing something down shows you are paying attention and that you care about the people in the room with you.  Ask yourself, do you want to waste your time nagging people to remember things and do their jobs? Things they are getting PAID cash money to do? Hell no. So why should you expect someone to want to do that to you? And honestly, your mama’s indulgences that you’re “special” aside, you don’t deserve it unless you’re actually saving the world. Then I’ll take notes for you. Call me.

Expectations. You’re not only clearly communicating but also assisting people to manage their actions and emotions. If a website is due on April 15th and you tell your boss/ coworker the day before that your part isn’t ready yet, you’ve really stepped in it. That’s a big no-no because it’s not just a missed a deliverable. You’ve just added all this extra work in adjusting all the timelines, denied your team the satisfaction of getting something done, and worst of all, having to tell the client and potentially screwing up future work. In other words, setting expectations in a timely fashion is simply covering your own ass and being a good colleague.

Time. Being late shows the other person you don’t respect their time. And if you make a team of people wait? That’s lost revenue. Of course, people never mean to be late, there was a traffic jam or that your coffee shop made your order wrong or the calendar you were looking at was last year’s…..but thinking that being late is ‘out of your control’ is usually wrong. In the old days, we didn’t have electronic calendars and phones, if you were late the other person had no way of knowing. Get up earlier, make coffee sooner, add some time in to read the paper, or double check your calendar the night before. When you’re late, the non-verbal cue that you’re giving off is that you’re more important than the person you’re meeting, the company, or the client. When you make people wait, you’re saying “yes, you may be busy but my time is more valuable than yours”. And if you ARE late, calling in as soon as possible to let people know that you’re not going to be there is just basic.

Thank you. Basic common courtesy doesn’t cost anything but it gains you a subtle edge. When coworkers need someone on their team, or need to give feedback, kind and polite people come to mind first. This does not mean being a pushover. You can still be a hard ass, demanding excellence from yourself and your team members. Etiquette is the social grease that keeps us as a society from killing each other- open the door for someone whose hands are full, say please, let the pregnant lady sit on the bus (if her hemorrhoids aren’t killing her) or just say thank you when someone does something for you, even IF it’s their job. The way you treat the janitor or busboy say more about you than you’ll ever realize.

So what’s next? part 3. you are never finished