Your Culture: What is Okay for You to Discuss?
Have you ever watched little kids on the playground compare their shoes that light up when they stomp? “I have better shoes than you do! My shoes are red!” “Well, mine are blue!” It's okay for these kids to discuss their shoes.
Discussing shoes on the playground is one thing. Discussing shoes at work might be something else entirely. I once worked with a woman who felt it was unacceptable to ask where I shopped for shoes, because she thought that might be prying into my finances. I was thrilled to share my shoe bargain secrets, even if they didn't remain secrets for long.
But many of you can't discuss salary information or other money information at work. Or, you may not know your manager's signature authority for an expense authorization. One senior developer told me, “I asked my manager, ‘What is your signature authority?' and you would think I had asked for the US nuclear device codes. ‘I can't tell you that. That's not something I can discuss!'”
In many corporate cultures, money is a big No-No when it comes to discussion. You can discuss politics or religion, but don't discuss money. If you do, all bets are off!
In other corporate cultures, you can discuss money. But don't discuss personal issues. I was coaching a manager, Jane, trying to help a team learn how to manage themselves. Jane had to learn how to be a meta-coach and to learn how to provide meta-feedback.
Jane had trouble discussing the issues her team found most troubling: what to do with the interpersonal relationships when people disagreed.
“JR, Izzy and Irene are fighting again.”
“Are they fighting or disagreeing?”
“Well, they are loud. They don't agree.”
“Sounds to me as if they disagree. Are they still talking to each other, or are they stalking into corners, and glaring at each other?”
“No, in fact, they are smiling at each other. But they are really loud and they disagree! And, they have disagreed on this issue for weeks now.”
Jane had trouble knowing how to help facilitate conflict resolution as a manager-coach, when she hated conflict. Once we diagnosed and fixed this problem, we could continue with her “real” problem.
Cultural fit can start with the manager or the organization. Jane had searched for and hired people who avoided conflict. Because she hired people using limited consensus, she had a team who still had disagreements. They didn't always know how to manage those disagreements. And, Jane didn't know how to discuss it.
Every organization has it's own take on what's okay to discuss. That's because what's okay to discuss is part of an organization's corporate culture. Every manager puts his or her own stamp on that corporate culture. When you talk about culture, think about it in the sense of the specific culture for a given manager or team, and broadening a little to include the entire organization.
This is why when you hire someone for a job, you have to know a little about your culture. Or, if you're looking for a job, you need to assess the culture of the team you are interviewing with. Not easy.
If you are hiring, start by being aware of what you can discuss. And, if you are looking for a job, gently ask questions, such as how the organization manages projects or how this team makes decisions. When you discover a “We don't discuss that here!” or a blank stare, you know you've discovered a piece of the culture for this organization.
And, let's hope that discussing shoes or projects or team decisions does not require nuclear codes.