Understanding The Unwritten Rules: Mental Exercise


This is a good read for people in the industry to understand how to better network and try to get more contacts.

Have you ever had an experience at work or in your family life where your behavior was influenced by the unwritten rules? For example, perhaps there is an unwritten rule that you do not talk about the declining sales in the department meetings. Or perhaps you have an unwritten rule in your family where your do not talk about anything relating to your father’s diabetes and his diet. My guess is that you have experienced unwritten rules before in many group settings. All organizations and families have unwritten rules that regulate your behavior. Many times these rules go consciously unnoticed, but they can account for many of the decisions and actions within an organization.

Unwritten rules or “latent rules” as I like to call them, make up a powerful, invisible force that moves through the lives of all the members of an organization. They are the unwritten rules that govern the freedom, values, speech and behavior of the organizations members. They can create a positive and strong dynamic culture. Such latent rules as “we are free to talk about our feelings”, “we welcome new experiences”, or “you are expected to be honest” can go a long way in making our families and organizations strong. If your latent rules are positive, they can promote a dynamic environment that promotes growth, creativity and productivity. Good latent rules allow organization members to thrive and be happy.

But what happens when our latent rules are poor? Poor rules can hinder growth, opportunity, and cause conflict and pain within an organization. They can damage relationships, and create a high cost in time and money. As a mediator I have seen conflict escalate, and relationships damaged because of poor latent rules. Damaging rules can be subtle and harm individuals and groups without being recognized as the culprit for their pain. Many of my clients are surprised to discover that some of these rules exist and the influence that they have over their organization.

Poor latent rules cause great barriers in the growth of organizations. What happens for example if an office does not talk about the declining sales? Or a family never talks about money openly or Dad’s diet? These unwritten rules create a rigid system that can hinder the group’s success. Generally these latent rules are never brought up and discussed openly; therefore they are never challenged and become detrimental in the growth and success of the group. Ultimately poor latent rules leave the group’s members to interoperate and guess on how to respond and work under them. This potentially causes a source of conflict, confusion, anxiety, and inappropriate actions within an organization because of the unclear and murky rules.

So the question is how do we address latent rules? The reality is that no matter what we do, these rules will always exist. Therefore the best thing that an organization can do is to acknowledge them. Be aware that as a member of a group there are rules that you are not aware of. Awareness alone will help overcome the barriers that these rules can create. We cannot address or challenge our unwritten rules if we do not acknowledge their existence.

Another strategy is to take time to examine and discover these rules. Try to determine if these rules are good or poor. Do they foster an open organization that promotes growth, and healthy productiveness, or do they foster a closed ridged organization that is fearful, and anxious?

Additionally, ask yourself what is your role in fostering unwritten rules. In many corporate settings, these rules seem to be made and influenced heavily by management. So ask yourself, if there are any unwritten rules that you unintentionally project toward your employees? Are there any unwritten rules about communication that exist? Do your actions create standards, and latent rules that are being enforced in the group? Being conscious about how your behavior can affect how others work with or for you can help to create a strong environment.

Finally, take the time to consciously create latent rules that work for the organization. Our attitudes, openness, speech, and behaviors can help create new latent rules that can foster strength. Examine yourself and the image that you are portraying. What kind of shadow are you casting down upon others? Does your behavior and speech reflect your open door policy? Does it reflect a safe place for your employees and foster creativity, and action? Many times company values are created to foster and measure some of the unwritten rules. They create a space to examine them, and to make them more visible.

Being conscience about latent rules will help you identify them as they manifest. It will give you an opportunity to address them in an honest way. Sometimes talking about latent rules can be painful, and create a picture about ourselves that we may not like, but it will move you toward a path of change. Many times when I am called into a conflict situation, we spend a lot of time discovering the latent rules, and fostering an open dialogue regarding them. This always brings them into the light and allows everyone to address them and the barriers and conflict that they create. Awareness and being conscious of your sphere of influence will help create latent rules that will create strength and growth within your organization.

Source by Adam Bowman


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