3 Rules of Business No One Tells You About (But You Need to Know)
Imagine being drafted into a game and you step out on the field. There are two teams and people are running around with a ball. You are expected to join the game and win. But you don’t know the game, you don’t know the rules, and you aren’t sure how to even get started.
For many women, this is exactly what it is like to be a woman in business. Business is a game. There are “unspoken” rules and a culture around how things are done. Although it is not The Hunger Games, the “business game” can be painful and confusing if you don’t know the rules. It can cause frustration, burnout, and echo into your life with a poor work-life balance. Women often feel they need to work harder and show up more to succeed, and when that doesn’t drive their career forward, they are often left questioning their own value and their own abilities. Could it be that the unspoken rules are holding us back?
For example, you will never see it in the human resources employee manual, but making sure you know what is a top priority for your boss (and your boss’s boss) and always aligning with it, is a top rule I see at every company. Yet often there are other projects and even competing priorities. Pushing back on anything that isn’t aligned is a hidden rule that drives success. Women often don’t see this or if they do, they are worried about the consequences of pushing back, but that is what must be done to succeed.
The good news is that together we can figure out the rules – unspoken or otherwise. Here are three ways to understand the rules of the game:
1. Watch and Listen
You don’t have to jump in and start trying to play the game without knowing the rules. Watch the interaction between people and groups. Listen to what they say to each other and about each other. More importantly, watch body language. I once sat in a meeting where a director mentioned a project that needed funding and I saw the VP roll his eyes. Clearly, he was not a fan of the proposal and was tired of hearing about it. That one piece of information told me volumes about their relationship and about his style.
2. Ask the Right People
Find your trusted advisor. It may not be another woman, but look for the person who seems to understand what is going on and may be able to help answer your questions. This is not going to be the loud, overly aggressive type in the meeting room, but rather the person who gets things done without a lot of drama. Build a relationship with this individual and over coffee or lunch, ask the questions most troubling to you. For example, “You do a great job of getting your budget requests approved. How do you do it?”
3. Know That It Isn’t Personal
I sat in a management meeting one day with a group I knew well. However, I had not seen this group interact together in front of their boss. I was the only woman in a room of about 20 men and they took shots at each other all day – sarcastic remarks, teasing, name-calling, and very heated debates. I was shocked – I thought these guys were all friends!
After the meeting I mentioned it to my manager and he was surprised. He didn’t even notice it and confirmed – of course they were all friends – they were going out for drinks later that week. However, he couldn’t argue with my observation that they were all competing with each other in front of their boss. The lesson here? Business is business and it is competitive – but it is not personal. If someone makes it personal, that is their problem.
Taking a pause to get a better understanding of the playing field and the players and what the “real” rules are might be is step that will help you be far more successful in the end.