One rule does not fit all!

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imagesHow often do we run into obstacles, as clients, customers, employees, even employers, that are the result of rules that nobody can even remember the purpose of? We tend to associate government with bureaucracy, but really, we find it everywhere. How many times have you heard that something can’t be done, or should only be done in a certain way because

a) Our policy is that…

b) The employee handbook says…

c) We have always done it like this…

d) It has never been done like this…

e) All of the above?

Liz Ryan from The Human Workplace recently wrote this wonderful piece ‘How short a skirt is too short for the office’ in response to a letter she’d received. Although the matter at hand is dress code, it is so relevant to many aspects of life and business.

What I love about her response is that she does not advise the writer to hide behind policies and regulations, but to acknowledge that the matter is subjective, and to a certain extent, unique to the individual. In Liz’ words:

‘If we are honest, a waif in your office could come to work wearing a certain youthfully adorable outfit and look perfectly appropriate, whereas if middle-aged zaftig me showed up in the same ensemble with the same fabrics, cuts and colors, you and your co-workers would ask “What is wrong with that woman? Has she no sense of decorum?”’

As Ms Ryan points out, we often come up with these one-size-fits-all rules to avoid having difficult discussions, making judgement calls, making arbitrary decisions, and even having to think for ourselves! Why do we do this? Why are we so scared of making a decision, a judgement call, thinking? I suspect in a large part it is due to our need to be liked, to be popular.

But then Ms Ryan reminds us that we are grown up, and in positions that carry certain responsibilities, and that we need to act like adults, and take decisions, based on the intricacies and the variables in front of us. Which might well mean that we don’t always make the same judgement call, because context matters.

So, how does she suggest we solve problems like these, if we can’t throw a rule book at it? By having those difficult, or, as she calls them, sticky conversations. Do it as a human being, with feelings, emotions, and sympathy, and in a way that makes the other person feel like a human being too. Do it with empathy and kindness. Your objective is to solve the situation, not to make anybody feel bad about themselves.

So whether we deal with colleagues, clients, stakeholders, let’s get away from that eighties style cubicle mentality, and acknowledge that what is good for the goose, is not always good for the gander. People are unique, and deserve to be treated as such. Even when it requires a bit more effort and, yes, stickiness.

 

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