Norms are rules that a group uses to define its appropriate and inappropriate values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviors. The catch: Those rules may be explicit or implicit. And those unspoken norms will bite you every time if you don't find out what they are.
Norms are so important that a failure to stick to the rules can result in severe punishment, the most feared of which is exclusion from the group. A common rule is that some norms must frequently be displayed; neutrality is seldom an option. Think about what "business casual" means in your company. Khakis and a golf shirt? Logo shirt? Jacket without a tie?
Your Norm Checklist
To help you and your colleagues identify norms, here are five very specific categories:
1. Explicit Norms are written or spoken openly.
2. Personal Norms: Standards we hold regarding our own actions.
3. Injunctive Norms: Behaviors perceived as being approved of by other people.
4. Subjective Norms: Expectations that "valued others" hold as to how we will behave.
5. Implicit Norms: Not stated openly; however, you'll find out quickly when you break one!
Norms can be conveyed by non-verbal behavior such as silence or 'dirty looks' in response to an unspoken norm having been broken. They may also be passed along through stories, rituals and role-model behavior. In Japan, new employees are assigned a mentor who, over time, passes along the company's norms by sharing stories about people, situations, and the outcomes. No employee manual needed here; simply the storytelling of a more experienced employee.
What to Do
a. Identify the rules you put on other people as a condition for being in your group. Are these productive or convenient?
b. What rules have the group put on you? Are they productive or convenient? Are there any which are particularly bothersome and unproductive?
What would happen if you made the implicit explicit?