Offices are unique places. They have a unique culture brought by people from many walks of life. There is usually a lot of awkwardness and oh the amount of drama!
But what if it didn’t have to be that way?
What if the worst of the awkwardness and drama could be cleared away?
I’m always in the middle of a lot of awkward situations. Having Tourette syndrome, it happens a lot. I have been known to bark during business meetings, I scream, I gasp, or I even make random animal noises. And I can’t stop it.
It’s kind of my favorite.
But I learned the secret about what an awkward moment is. Once I know what it is, I know what to do about it, and I am free to enjoy rather than stress during these moments.
First, let me give a little bit of context in order to understand.
In society, we have these unspoken rules that we call culture. Used as a means to simplify communication, these rules help us move through society without having to explain every single detail.
Assumptions are made so we can skip certain details. We just know.
At least we are supposed to. Many “socially inept” either don’t notice or don’t care about the rules, and act according to what they see fit. When we don’t communicate with them directly, they can appear to be rude or insensitive.
But are they really?
The thing about these unspoken rules is that they are man-made. They are not laws of the Universe and thus can be changed if they are no longer serving their purpose of making things better for us and facilitating communication.
These rules vary from place to place, hence the reason culture is so different in various regions around the world.
The culture even varies from region to region within a country. I can guarantee that the culture in California is very different from the culture in Montana.
Does that make either of them wrong or bad? No. They just have different rules based on a different understanding of the region and the people within it.
So What Does That Have To Do with Awkwardness?
Awkward moments occur when we don’t know what the rule is, or there is no rule for that situation.
As a result, we look around, looking for someone who knows the rules. We want to try and figure it out before we make some kind of mistake.
Many of these rules we pick up on as children. There are some that have become obvious, like not asking a woman about her weight or if she is pregnant.
Breaking the rules means humiliation. And since so many are picked up as children, we assume we should now know all the rules. Not knowing the rules gives us a sense of fear that we might do or say the wrong thing and end up looking like a fool. No one wants that.
We live in a time where so many things are changing quickly, including culture.
Unspoken rules and traditions are quickly becoming obsolete and we encounter more and more situations where there just aren’t any rules set.
So… who makes the rules?
“If you don’t like where you are, move. You are not a tree.” — Jim Rohn
Good news. Anyone can.
Culture is man-made. It is highly liberating to understand that if they are man-made, we not only get to make them, but we can change them.
These unspoken rules are there to make communication easier and to facilitate navigating relationships.
If the rules aren’t serving their purpose, they are changeable.
As an example, I have Tourette syndrome. it very often leads to awkward situations. I will scream at inappropriate moments, bark during business meetings, and make all sorts of random noises.
Common unspoken rules say these things are inappropriate and that I should be embarrassed.
However, these noises are not something that I can control. And if the point of the rules is to facilitate relationships, I have to find a new way to navigate these situations.
What would help in these situations?
I find I simply have to explain what is going on. I have no reason to be embarrassed. In my mind, these noises are the same as coughing or sneezing at the same moment.
It’s a regular bodily function. For many years I thought they were hiccups. There was a period where people around me felt like they needed to say something like “bless you” when I would tic. (We eventually settled on “Booyah” as the appropriate term.)
The noises may be different, but I get to decide the culture around them.
So What About at Work?
This is obviously a little different than me making noises and deciding the culture around my Tourette syndrome.
But my favorite thing about culture is that it is man-made, and thus is fluid and changeable.
First, decide what values are important to you. This can include things like honesty, punctuality, communication, kindness, etc.
Know that when these are most important, you have to be the one to set the example of what this looks like and what is acceptable around you. Show people that honesty and kindness can go hand in hand, or whatever you determine is important.
When you exude these characteristics, people will either accommodate to these values, or will find a way out of your life.
The same can happen at work.
When applying for jobs, make sure you are looking at a companies mission statement and core values.
If they don’t have any, or they don’t align with your values, you might want to avoid the trouble of working in an environment that doesn’t share your values.
If they do share your values, and the culture in the company doesn’t align with you, it just shows how much more you are needed to help make the necessary changes.
You are a part of the company you work for. If they have your time and effort, you have influence there.
Don’t underestimate your role in the company. Yes, they might find someone else who can do the tasks they ask of you, but company culture changes with the personalities that show up to work every day.
Just think about what it was like before the last new hire showed up, or when your best friend got a promotion to another department. Things change when the group of people changes.
You have more influence in this culture than you think.
So if there is something you don’t like about the culture at work, find a way to change it. I can’t tell you exactly what to do, it’s your culture. You don’t have to throw a fit or complain everytime something happens.
Show the example of what you want to see in your life. Communicate new standards that you may have. What others do in response to that will show you the next steps that you will want to take.
If you found anything in this article helpful, please clap (up to 50x) so others can find it, and share it with your coworkers.
You can also find more information about awkwardness and culture in my book, Awkwardly Strong.