Elbows and Armrests Revisited

playroom_rules_blacky8x10In June I wrote a blog called ‘Hey, get your elbows off my armrest!’ in response to an unpleasant experience I had on a flight home from Brisbane.  The short version of the story is that I was seated next to a high profile athlete and his wife who both behaved badly. Their arrogant and blatant disregard for ‘the rules’ inspired me to write a blog encouraging people to expect every member of our community to play nicely (i.e. within the boundaries of society’s commonly accepted rules of engagement) irrespective of their privilege, rank or status.

Recently I came across this article on ‘golden rules of air travel’ by Erica Golden.  Erica’s amusing article took me back to my earlier blog and the positive response I received in support of the points I raised.  In my experience playing within the rules matters to most community minded people.  Most of us want people to simply do what is fair and reasonable.  That is fairly and reasonably allowing for the needs and wants of both the individual and the community they are a part of.  Of course there are rules that fail the test, but most allow us to manage the all-important balance of give and take in our society.

Rules are designed to govern human behaviour, the right rules enable us all to live in peace and harmony, to prosper and thrive.   For any rule to have a desirable impact however, it must be based in integrity and consistently applied.  When rules create benefit for some and disadvantage for others, when they are applied rigidly to some but not at all to others, trust inevitably breaks down and human survival instincts are triggered.  Defensive, aggressive and self-serving behaviours are typical or at the very least unsurprising responses to feeling vulnerable, powerless or mistreated.

e-mc2Influencing the behaviour of adults is no different to managing the behaviour of children in a schoolyard.  The formula is simple – make sure you set fair rules and then apply them consistently.  If you set rules people don’t believe in they will find ways to work around them.  If you set rules and then fail to enforce them, eventually they will be ignored.   If you set rules and then apply them inconsistently, disadvantaged people will be inspired to rebel.

It is every people manager’s job to help members of their team understand and live by the rules.  Not only is it a people manager’s job to share the formalised rules reflected in company policies and procedures, but also the unwritten rules that govern the group’s dynamics.  The most important things you can do to ensure people play within the rules are:

1. Communicate what your organisation stands for (your values) and how you expect people to behave.

  • Begin by sharing insight to your organisation’s values during the recruitment process
  • Leverage performance management to influence behaviour

2. Ensure company polices are well written and communicated

  • Use ‘plain speak’ language
  • Regularly educate staff and reinforce their understanding
  • Make policies freely available and easily accessible
  • Ensure when policies are applied in practice they support the culture you are looking to create

3. Communicate, reinforce and apply the rules every day in the expectations you set, decisions you make and actions you take. 

4. Deal with behavioural issues

  • Be courageous and have the conversations you need to have about behaviour.  Ensure people behave in line with the rules by redressing unacceptable conduct.

5. Create an ethical and quality focused culture


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