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3 unwritten rules for workplace etiquette

For those who prioritize some standard of decorum, conventional or nontraditional social norms and expectations, here are three valuable lessons about unwritten rules that every business stakeholder can glean, especially if their aim is to build meaningful connections.

Unwritten rules serve several important functions in society and business – they keep things running smoothly by guiding how we interact with one another and avoid unnecessary drama.

Basically, they’re like the invisible hand that keeps things in check without needing to call in the big guns of formal rules and regulations or, dare I say, HR.

1. Be fair

In “The Hot Towel” (season 7, episode 4), when David explained the social etiquette surrounding the overconsumption of hors d’oeuvres at a party to actor Christian Slater, I would bet that David was unaware of Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom’s groundbreaking research demonstrating that ordinary people are capable of creating rules and institutions that allow for the sustainable and equitable management of shared resources.

Colleagues and employees expect fairness in the distribution of resources, opportunities and recognition for contributions. If resources aren’t shared fairly, it can really mess with how happy people are at work, how well teams get along and even how a company performs overall.

Leaders need to make sure they’re being fair and up front about who gets what to keep everyone feeling good and included.

Individuals who perceive unfair treatment in opportunities and resource allocation may experience a loss of motivation, which can lead to decreased productivity or subpar performance outcomes.

I’ve witnessed this firsthand. Furthermore, inequities have the potential to foster resentment and conflict among team members.

Unequally distributing resources undermines the trust of the workforce, leading them to view such behavior as favoritism or bias.

2. Respect personal space

Although it may not be explicitly outlined in company policy, adhering to colleagues’ personal space boundaries is widely regarded as a fundamental aspect of workplace decorum.

If you’ve ever experienced a co-worker invading your personal space by standing too close, engaging in unwelcome physical contact or making inappropriate requests such as touching your hair, you can appreciate the importance of respecting boundaries in workplace interactions.

Violating personal space norms can stir up discomfort and perhaps even spark drama at work. That’s why giving people their space is key to keeping things chill and friendly in the office.

3. Gain insight

In Curb Your Enthusiasm, David challenges our understanding of social behavior, showcasing both appropriate and subpar conduct, along with cautionary tales, all the while defining the limits of acceptable interaction.

Being unaware of others’ perspectives, backgrounds, feelings and behaviors doesn’t cut it. Ignorance or lack of awareness in various life contexts, including workplace interactions, can lead to negative outcomes, whether acknowledged or not.

It’s essential for individuals to be attentive to and understand those around them to navigate social situations adeptly and cultivate positive relationships. Insensitivity or offensiveness will not sway people positively.

As we bid farewell to David, an ironic purveyor of manners, and his humorous and irreverent examination of human behavior, we can embrace the overarching concept of unwritten rules.

By employing principles of equitable management, respecting personal space and fostering awareness of others’ perspectives, businesses can cultivate a positive work environment.

In the series finale, the contrarian David, uninterested in engaging in a teachable moment, tells a child, “I’m 76 years old, and I’ve never learned a lesson in my entire life.”

While Curb Your Enthusiasm may not appeal to everyone, its candidness and perhaps excessive bluntness provide valuable lessons on the intricacies of just getting along.

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