10 workplace rules of engagement

Despite our best intentions, our workplace behavior is sometimes less than perfect. Here are some rules to help minimize the missteps and improve our on-the-job interactions.

Here's a thought. What if we all admit to being imperfect? While we strive to be good employees, good coworkers, and good bosses, sometimes we're not. Sometimes the stresses of the modern world get to us and we're not proud of our behavior. It doesn't mean we're bad people, it just means we're normal human beings.

Instead of making believe that everyone else is "the problem" and painting a big fat bull's-eye on the boss, calling each other a**holes, or acting out like spoiled children, how about we all fess up, admit that we can do better, and actually deal with the situation. I mean, wouldn't that be more productive?

Just to be clear, I'm not just talking about behavior that diminishes organizational effectiveness and makes everyone around us miserable. I'm talking about behavior that actually hurts your career. So even if you're a selfish, narcissistic SOB -- like me -- you need to pay attention to these 10 workplace rules of engagement.

Note: This article originally appeared as an entry in BNET's The Corner Office blog. It's also available as a PDF download.

1: Instead of covering your ass, put your ass on line

Nobody ever advanced their career by covering their ass, and nobody ever got ahead without taking risks. No pain, no gain. Simple as that.

2: Don't rip off ideas -- riff on them

Instead of co-opting or outright stealing a coworker's or employee's idea, do what bloggers do: We're always riffing on each other's posts. Everybody benefits and some of the offshoots are better than the original.

3: Tell it straight; don't sugarcoat or breathe your own fumes

That's right, grow some cojones, be honest about what's going on, and accept nothing less from others. Being a yes-man or surrounding yourself with them spells disaster for you and your organization.

4: Instead of protecting your turf, open up the playing field

The more you try to protect your domain, the faster you'll lose it. Also, turf wars quickly deteriorate into dysfunctional silo behavior and bunker mentality. It's all bad. Besides, influence without authority or control is the true test of leadership.

5: Don't bitch about the boss; complement his weaknesses

Workers are constantly whining about their boss without realizing the harm it does to themselves. If you want to do your career some good, learn to identify and minimize your boss's and coworkers' issues. That's what good leaders and effective managers do.

6: Attack the problem, not the person

People are always complaining that conflict stresses them out. When it's directed at a person, it is bad news. But when it's directed at solving a real customer or product problem, that's another story. Workplace conflict is beneficial, as long as it isn't personal.

7: Don't place blame; take responsibility

Pointing fingers just creates tension or inflames already tense situations. By identifying and taking responsibility for issues, you bring them to light sooner and get them resolved faster -- and you will be recognized for your effort.

8: Instead of making waves, make decisions

Dysfunctional managers love to disrupt things and create turmoil. In reality, they're only disrupting their own already-tenuous jobs. Instead of making waves, dive in, analyze the problem, and propose a solution.

9: To break analysis paralysis, take a chill pill

One or two chronic debaters can effectively stall any kind of decision-making. I've seen entire organizations brought down by this insidious behavior. Instead of beating a dead horse, chill out, then meet back and actually make and document a decision. You can always change it later, but not if you never make the call.

10: Replace strategy du jour with strategic planning

The opposite problem of analysis paralysis is overreacting to a single data point and declaring a new direction, oftentimes without key stakeholders present. An effective strategic planning process will take care of that.

Other rules...

Okay, just try to tell me and all your fellow readers that you've never ever engaged in a single one of the dysfunctional behaviors that these rules are designed to minimize. Go ahead; but you know we won't believe you.

In any case, those are my 10 but I can probably come up with more. Any suggestions for new rules to improve the dysfunctional workplace?