Check Out Your "Rule Book"

May 15, 2019

By Arnold Sanow

We each have an invisible edition of our personal “rule book” deeply ingrained in our brains. These guidelines define our expectations of how others should treat us, along with what we believe is right, fair and just.

We judge people by this book. We have rules about being courteous, extending appreciation, acknowledging work, honoring time, demonstrating concern, being compassionate, delivering service and the degree of effort required for projects. We have rules about how quickly people should return phone calls and e-mails, reply to requests, respond with answers, handle problems, pitch in on projects and, most importantly, a general idea about how people should and shouldn’t behave.

People play by their own rules and may not be familiar with yours. Even if they do know your rules, it doesn’t mean they’ll abide by them (as every parent knows only too well). Observe your own rules in action whenever you become frustrated or annoyed with a customer, co-worker, friend or loved one. Unknowingly, they may have flagrantly broken one of your beloved rules. When this happens, your first reaction may be to penalize or disconnect from the “violator.” Just keep in mind that imposing expectations on others only makes matters worse, often creating or widening a chasm between you and the other person.

Whether whispered around water coolers, voiced over the phone, or overheard at meetings, the following comments are sure signs that people are either puzzled, peeved, or both, and that someone’s “rules” have been violated:

  • Who does she think she is, butting into the copy machine line?
  • Everyone should do his or her share of work!
  • It’s not my job! People should (replace the coffee pot; pick up their own stuff; make their own arrangements)
  • She’s been here long enough to know what to do without my having to spell it out
  • They should have followed my recommendations!

Take a moment to examine your rules as each transgression arises. Are you being reasonable? Don’t waste your time collecting “evidence” of rule violations; instead invest your efforts in creating good connections with your co-workers. You may discover that some of your rules are best forgotten.

About the Author(s)

Arnold Sanow, MBA, CSP, is a speaker and seminar leader. He is the author of five books including Get Along with Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere…8 keys to Creating Enduring Connections with Customers, Co-workers--Even Kids, co-authored with Sandra Strauss, from which this article is adapted. Contact him at or on the Web at