What we've learned.

You can read the room for the social code.

Every group has a social code. Sometimes it’s called the “unwritten rules of conduct” and sometimes it’s called plain “culture.”  But every group has one, and learning it means that you have a chance to gain credibility with the group and open up communication. Don’t learn it, or guess wrong, and you’ve a good chance of being viewed as either irrelevant, tone-deaf or offensive. No organization wants that.

In trying to maintain support and compete, organizations are constantly at the mercy of social codes from different customer groups on the outside and employee groups on the inside. Organizations that recognize the importance of learning social codes are more likely to become and remain relevant in their marketplace.

So how do you crack the social code? You learn to read a room. Here’s a few pro tips from social researchers whose job it is to immerse themselves in different groups and understand them from the inside out:

  1. Ask about the meaning of artifacts, the “things” people display prominently in their environment and wear as apparel or accessories. What do these mean or symbolize to the person? Are they important? If so, why?

  2. Ask about the meaning of rituals, the activities or habits people seem to prioritize in their day or week? Why did they start doing them? Why do they do them? What do they believe would happen if they didn’t do them?

  3. Take note of what is “normal,” general attitudes toward behavior and events. Are there behaviors that are expected? Do any seem unusual to you that seem usual to the group? Do some behaviors or events spur a charged reaction from members of the group? Or no reaction at all? Why are certain behaviors or events treated the way they are? What do they imply or symbolize?

  4. Take note of what people seem to value, the things they prioritize and emphasize. The things they would be reluctant to change or give up. Why are these things important? What do they matter? People value things they believe help them survive and thrive. Why do they attach these beliefs to these things.
Most importantly, we’ve found that successful organizational leaders tend to understand that the people important to the organization — customers, employees, partners, investors — may have lived experiences different from that of the organization’s founders or leaders, and therefore may view everything about the organization in a different light than the founders or leaders. They tend to read the room before attempting to work with the group; they seek the social code that governs behavior in that group.

Making this effort, and doing it well, reflects to the audience (e.g., customers, employees) that the leader validates this difference in perspective and wishes to respect and leverage it for positive ends for all parties.  This goes far to help the organization matter to each group.