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Navigating the unwritten rules of the workplace

There are all sorts of unwritten rules about how to behave in the workplace, rules that you usually only learn from — often embarrassing — experience.

Or, you could read Ross McCammon's book, Works Well with Others, a guide to navigating workplace culture without enduring the embarrassing experiences that come before. He came into the Marketplace's New York bureau recently to share what he learned about office life.

Unwritten Rules of the Workplace:

1. You should screw up

"For me, the first thing I did as an employee at Esquire was I went to the men's room, as one does, and I saw what I assumed was a fellow employee there, and I said, "Hi. I'm Ross." And I reached out to shake his hand, and at that moment, we both looked at each other and thought, "Is this really happening?" There's an unwritten rule in the workplace, and it's that you don't shake hands in the restroom. That was my first official social act, and that was a screw up."

"I no longer cringe about it but there are other things that we do. We screw up at our jobs and I think that's another thing we should allow ourselves to do because if you're not screwing up early on, you're probably overqualified."

2. Leave the office holiday party before you think you want to

"What's weird about the holiday party, is that you have to look at it as it's still the office. It's not like the rules of office politics don't apply in that situation. The first thing you do when you go in there is you say hi to the boss. Because what you want to do, what you want to have the option of is leaving whenever you want to. That's the key. Don't drink too much, but also leave before you think you want to. And when you leave, just leave."

An excerpt from Works Well with Others:

How to Shut Up

At Esquire, there is a production meeting each week where the editors and designers are supposed to discuss the status of projects. The point of the meeting is to have a weekly milepost where you know you will have to answer for your work. Your answers should mostly be “Yes” and “Wednesday” and “Looking good.” I did not understand that my first few months at Esquire. I thought I was supposed to answer questions truthfully and expansively. So in response to “How’s that story coming?” I would explain and apologize and answer questions that hadn’t been asked. I would bore everyone in the room. I didn’t know I was supposed to say, “It’s great,” and then I was supposed to shut up.

This is how to talk in a meeting.

1. Shh.

2. Shh.

3. Speak.

4. Shh.

Reprinted with permission from Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2015 by Ross McCammon.

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