Speak Up / Work Culture

Rigid Rules In The Workplace? 6 Tips To Question Norms & Thrive At Work

. 7 min read . Written by Oindrilla Gupta
Rigid Rules In The Workplace? 6 Tips To Question Norms & Thrive At Work

When was the last time you faced resistance from your manager because you suggested an easy and more effective way of doing things? I’ll start. My former manager snapped at me with a “This is how we do it here!” when I suggested that we use proper thumbnails for videos that are embedded in articles. The courage to challenge everyday workplace rules doesn’t come easy. But you wouldn’t thrive at work if you didn’t do it either. 

I used to write about homegrown brands and stores for my previous company. As a part of the job, I had to do some reporting in various iconic markets of Mumbai.

I was told that I needed to be taking photos of the stores sneakily in case I did not get permission from the owner to feature their brand. 

While my conscience told me that this was downright unethical, I was so busy chasing a target of wrapping up 80 articles a month that I succumbed to what my company had been practicing for years. 

So there I was ﹘  a sneaky reporter who would go to any extent to meet her deadlines. However, one day, I questioned the management and requested them to have a proper practice in place.

Did I storm around my workplace, questioning every flaw in the system? No. 

I strategically planned and pitched my suggestions and solutions for the management to understand where I was coming from. 

The Root Causes Of A Manager’s Resistance To Change 

Statements like “We’ve always done things like this here”, stem from the conditioning that the management is hesitant to welcome new changes. There could be several reasons for this resistance. 

  • Some managers resist change in the everyday rules to prove that they are important and that their decision is sacrosanct. They do not want to lose authority and control over things.
  • Then there are managers who are too lazy to incorporate changes because it requires time, research, communication, and coordination. And they want to avoid all of it. 
  • And some might do it simply because they fear any kind of change. They are unsure if it will be beneficial for the company or not. 
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What is known is always going to be comfortable. But challenging the rules that do not make sense, along with strategic reasoning, can help bring positive changes in the workplace. 

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Tactful Ways To Challenge Unreasonable Workplace Norms

If you are risking your opinion on certain norms and fear that it will either fall on deaf ears or be overruled by management, you should proceed with a plan.

Here are some approaches that can increase your chances of success while challenging the status quo in your workplace: 

1. Frame The Right Questions 

If a norm sounds unreasonable to you, try to decode it and create a list of reasons why you have a problem with it. On the basis of your list, frame questions for the management.

For instance, if you have issues with your company not prioritising quality over quantity, try to ask them about what they have in mind, and why they prioritise the same.  

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There may be reasons behind a norm that you are unaware of. Let management take their time to answer, and listen to their responses carefully. Their answers may lead to further questions, problems, or solutions that you may not have considered earlier. 

2. Be Solution-Oriented 

You cannot propose an idea without chalking out prospective solutions for execution. Pitching a change and brainstorming ways to execute it go hand in hand. So if you want to challenge a workplace norm, it is best to also think of something effective and worthwhile to replace it with. 

It is easy to complain about unnecessary norms. What’s difficult is to stay in the system to change the system. 

Being less of a cribber and more of a solution-seeker will earn you brownie points while trying to challenge the management. 

3. Prioritise Your Ideas 

I have either had multiple ideas to tackle a bogus norm, or not had ideas at all. There was no in-between. What having multiple solutions taught me is that it further confuses the people involved. 

Perhaps you are enthusiastic about a whole list of ideas. Being passionate about bringing in change is admirable too. But picking your battles and shortlisting the key ideas is crucial so that your best ideas do not get lost among the average ones. 

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For instance, think of yourself as a social media manager. You have five ideas for better and seamless execution of posts online. From these ideas, wisely pick the ones that are most relevant and likely to garner the management’s attention the most. 

If you want to break the norm and introduce fresh concepts and ideas in your workplace, make sure you prioritise which one of your ideas is a deal-breaker. Stick to the idea that fuels your’s as well as your management’s growth within the company, instead of pitching several ideas together. 

4. Gather Allies To Support You 

No battle can be fought alone. If you’re planning to challenge long-standing attitudes and processes, having colleagues and teammates by your side will make a huge difference. If you think there is a valid reason to change a norm, chances are that there are other employees who would agree with you too. 

When I challenged the norm of collecting images and videos of the local stores without permission, I was surprised to see that I was not the only one who considered this practice to be unethical. My colleagues raised their voice too, and we pitched solutions to avoid this problem together. 

Workplace management tends to turn a blind eye to change when it is proposed by a single employee. But when people question in unison, the issue is taken into consideration. 

5. Perfect Your Pitch

Most of the time, management is hell-bent on “This is how we have always done it” because ﹘ let’s face it ﹘ change is scary. If you’re too forceful or pushy, you will end up risking your proposal. The management may shut your idea down even before giving you a chance to properly sell it to them. 

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There’s a super thin line between firm reasoning and pitching something emotionally

Pitch your solutions, but also be sensitive towards other people’s points of view. Your ideas and solutions must work for all the parties involved in decision-making, so remember that while pitching them. Keep your pitch short and snappy, and leave plenty of time for discussion. 

P.S: Never pitch an idea when you are already having a bad day, or when your manager is in a bad mood. 

6. Be Hopeful 

When you are trying to bring about changes in the decade-old norms of a company, it takes time

If your solutions are not paid heed to, do not get antagonistic or hold grudges against the management. You can still try and come up with a better way to convince them to change their mind. 

However, if the change is important for your professional growth, but your company gets in the way of your job by not executing what you had requested, you can either raise it as a concern with the upper management or call it quits for your well-being. 

Challenging norms and the status quo takes just two things: courage and planning. And when you succeed at bringing about a healthy change in your workplace, you also end up thriving and growing in the organisation.

So now that you’ve reached the end of this read, keep these hacks handy for the next time you want to speak up, but do not know how to go about it. Have you ever challenged your company’s norms? What was the outcome? Share your experiences in the comments section below! 

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