Sunday, March 4, 2007

Navigating Cubicle Culture Shock

Cubicle culture is no different than any other culture found in the remotest societies. It has its own rules, customs, taboos, beliefs, and protocols. Some of them are obvious, some subtle. Many can be learned by research, others only through experience. When entering a new cubicle cultural experience, don't be that yuppie tourist who straps his knapsack on backwards and rambles through the dirty streets of developing countries screaming at native octogenarians in English if it's o.k. to take their photograph. Try to blend in, but know that you can't without their permission.

The locals will let you know if they like you. The same is true of colleagues. Every cubicle inhabitant should strive to be both professionally and socially accepted at the office. Work hard, present yourself well, and don't fart, burp, eat leftover fish, or cut your fingernails in your cubicle. This may seem like common sense, but common sense is similar to having a sense of humor; everyone thinks they have it, but what they really mean is that they have their own version of it.

Just imagine what can go wrong when different people - from different religions, ages, politics, sexual orientations, races, cultures, and countries - gather around the glossy calendar of the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders you decided to pin to your fabric partition.

Sally Hepsford, your boss, may be a feminist Redskins fan. Terrell Holmes, your IT guy, may think that women in chaps are an insult to his conservative religious beliefs. Patricia Wellington in human resources, who was rejected by the cheerleading squad every fall throughout her six years in high school, may reject your recent request for a raise. Kinichi Murakawi, the graphic designer, may ask, "If you love women so much, why haven't you had a date in two years?"

When I set out to write The Cubicle Survival Guide: Keeping Your Cool in the Least Hospitable Environment on Earth, I knew the challenge was to finally and firmly establish the undocumented rules of cubicle behavior that people from diverse backgrounds generally agree upon. It's been a difficult venture. Cubicle culture shock is such a personal experience, and we all deal with it based on how, where, when, and by whom we were raised and educated.

There are so many things that can go wrong with your decisions regarding cubicle decoration, culinary choices, personal hygiene, and communication skills that it's easier than you think to become, without even knowing it, the pariah of your workplace. But don't despair. We all understand the reality that not everyone is going to like us. It's part of life. Especially cubicle life.

It's all about balancing your personal life with your cubicle life, and not just your version of balance. To find out how to do this, and hopefully have many laughs - yes, here comes the shameless plug - check out The Cubicle Survival Guide: Keeping Your Cool in the Least Hospitable Environment on Earth.

Thanks again for reading, and feel free to post your comments, good or bad, anytime. I appreciate the feedback. Just don't send me your pictures of Vietnamese octogenarians. I've been there, too. I still have the knapsack. Best, - James F. Thompson


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