Eight Crazy Unwritten Rules and How to Break Them

November 20, 2014Do you have some ridiculous “unwritten rules” running rampant in your organization?  You know, those rules which are not written down but seem to have taken on a life of their own?

Here's our list of the top eight most outlandish unwritten rules which we've either experienced, seen or been told about by our members:


1) Walk faster around the building (so you look like you're busy).

Oh puh-leeze, the speed of my motion forward is not an indication of my workload.  Have the confidence to challenge perceptions and ensure people look at your results, not your walking pace (or just say you have a bad foot)!

2) Don’t reply to emails too fast (so you look like you're busy).

If your work style is more suited to dealing with issues as they arise, then embrace that. Individuals have different ways of working, and each has its own merits.

3) Sit closest to the CEO in a board meeting.

Increasing your visibility with senior leaders is about what you contribute, not sitting close enough to fill their water glass. 

4) She or he who speaks loudest and longest wins.

Challenge assumptions about what a leader sounds and looks like. Does a soft-spoken man or woman who listens and shares ideas fit into the traditional mold of a leader? Question yourself and others. 

5) Leave a jacket on your chair so it looks like you’re still around the office.

Ah the horrors of presentee-ism!  This “ism” is still alive and well despite the fact that we know that both men and women want more flexibility in their working environments.  It's outputs that count—not being in the office until midnight!

6) Send an email late at night or on weekends to appear dedicated.

Once again, trust that getting the work done is more important than token late-night emails, and make sure you voice your achievements.

7) Don’t smile too much

We know that until people feel at ease bringing their whole selves to work, organizationswill suffer as innovation and productivity declines.  Workplaces need to create cultures where all talent can thrive equally.  So be yourself and smile with abandon.  

8) Have a strong handshake

All of us take in people’s physical cues when we meet them.  It's a shorthand by which we process information. However we need to question ourselves to make sure that we don't negatively stereotype during this first impression.  Ask around—does a weak handshake affect perceptions?  Call these behaviors out.  But we must make sure we are sensitive to cultural rules: in some cultures a strong handshake (or any handshake) is an absolute no-no! Not all rules translate regionally.


My challenge to you is to question those unwritten rules that don’t make sense—especially those that, unfairly, hold back talented women and men. Call them out and #DisruptTheDefault!



The views expressed herein are solely those of the guest blogger and do not necessarily reflect those of Catalyst. Catalyst does not endorse any political candidates. The post and the comments are presented only for the purpose of informing the public.