Social Norms at Work

Social Norms at Work

I recently gave a talk in Michigan on the topic of servant-leadership.  Unfortunately, servant-leadership is something that is painfully absent in so many organizations.  Just a few years ago, it (servant-leadership) was not something I had even heard of.  Going back and reviewing the PMBOK made me realize two glaring omissions.  There is a lack of content on stakeholder or team engagement and there is a lack of content on leadership.  Fortunately, in the last few years, I have enjoyed books by authors like Clay Shirky, Seth Godin, Dan Pink, and Dan Ariely.  I’ve also met and interacted with some amazing people in the Agile community.  I now interact differently with my peers, as a result of these experiences.  I now apply my social norms at work.  What are social norms?  They are patterns of behavior in a particular group, community, or culture, accepted as normal and to which an individual is accepted to conform.

We all go to work and we all get paid to do it.  Too many times, we take things for granted.  We don’t question the things we do or the things that happen to us.  I’m pretty sure this is based on conditioning over a long period of time.  Perhaps we need to start treating those we work with more like those we socialize with.  Next time you interact with a fellow employee, ask yourself if your behavior is socially acceptable.

Social Norms

Within an organization, where we are working with other people, things can get twisted.  Some exhibit bad behavior and believe it’s somehow forgivable because we’re all getting paid.  Well, I don’t think that’s acceptable.  It’s very interesting to see the same people behave differently, when not in the office environment.  Why is it some people forget basic manners or common courtesy, when in an office environment?

Case in point, I hold the door open for people, regardless if I know them or not.  I see this as socially expected behavior.  Socially, I expect a thank you.  To say I expect it is a slight embellishment.  Outside of the office, I still expect a thank you.  Unfortunately, at the office, I’ve started to accept not getting any reciprocation.  There are a few people in my building that I don’t personally know but I still hold the door for them.  They won’t make eye contact with me and they won’t say thank you.  When the situation is reversed, these same people do not hold the door for anyone.  But, I refuse to accept their behavior.

We all need to strive to understand and empathize with others. People need to be accepted and recognized for their special and unique qualities.  Assume the good intentions of your coworkers and don’t reject them as people, even while refusing to accept their behavior or performance.

Drawing:  Pictofigo

HT: Business Dictionary

2 Replies to “Social Norms at Work”

  1. Derek,

    I struggle with mental illness, depression, anxiety, PTSD with dissociation, attention deficit disorder. I’m often paranoid and fearful that my coworkers know I’m different and I’m not accepted. The criticism I received formally from my boss is something I though a lot about. The two main points were I was excessively absent (when I had the flu I insisted on attempting the day instead of staying home but needed to leave early.). Disruptive behavior – I get excited about my work and can be loud. I enjoy my coworkers and thought i was in line with everyone else. Despite my efforts to conform I still notice others behaviors not conforming, such as persistent derragatory name calling or loudly conversing for lengthy periods of time. Or outright stating they hate people and using little voodoo dolls with tacks stuck in them to demonstrate. They aren’t reprimanded at all. Could my reprimands be due to my disclosure of my disability? I’d really like to know as someone with a disability making it difficult to read social cues, body language, emotional cues – how do I learn to conform and be normal?

    1. Jennifer, I don’t know if I’m qualified to tell you how to learn to conform and “be normal”. I have to say, where I am now and where I was when I wrote the original blog post are radically different. I found a compassionate, loving, and supporting company of people. Of 120+ hires over the past 6 years, I was #3. I’m still there. We hug each other hello and goodbye when we don’t see each other for a while. When you can tell the conversation is getting heated, someone always tempers it with “you know I love you, man”. Your boss and coworkers sound apathetic. Have you considered the problem is with them and not you? Karma has a way of dealing with people and companies like that.

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