Emmy’s Rules for Survival

While watching Zombieland the other night, I realized how I am not so different from the main character in terms of how I approach the corporate zombies. In that movies (which is hilarious by the way), the main character has a set of rules – numbered rules – that he follows to ensure his survival. 32 to be exact. Rule number 1 is Cardio. You learn quickly why this is his first rule because outrunning a zombie will ensure survival.
My rules are not so concise, but I realize when I use them that things definitely go better for me. And, by the way, these can apply to life too.
Rule #1: Pick your battles.

I know, I know – an easy one. But I find not enough people ask themselves “is this a hill I want to die on?” They fight all battles equally – like it is the critical battle to win whatever war they are fighting. But, you see, that is a mistake. Losing all of the battles tells a story about you too. And it usually isn’t a good one. Also, too many battles at the same time will make you lose whatever war you are fighting. I can give plenty of historical examples of leaders who learned this one the hard way – and the leaders who exploited it.
Rule #2: If someone gets emotional in their argument, don’t go there.

This one takes some practice especially if you have a temper like I do. Stick with the facts. Stick with the issues. Do not let yourself get sucked into their emotion. Even if they are attacking. If you don’t go there, they will realize what they are doing. Trust me. Let me give you a recent example. On Twitter a week ago, I posted something about my boss’s boss calling me a traitor in a meeting. She does not like change. She is fighting the changes my project is driving. She likes the old way. She thinks she knows better. As we are discussing the point, she is getting frustrated with the fact I’m simply sticking to the facts, so she throws out this: “You know what concerns me is that you work for me, yet you seem to be parroting to me what accounting keeps saying. I need you to stop thinking like them and more like us.” I could have gotten defensive. I could have reminded her that I was an IT person. That I’m trying to help them out. That I am on her side, but I didn’t. What’s the point. That’s what she wanted – and that was NOT what this was about. So, I simply reminded her that my job is to make sure the project did not violate the policies as put forth by that group. To date, the systems do violate those rules,  so it is my job as PM to ask the leaders to help drive the changes needed to make sure we were complaint with those polices. There was nothing in that response she could argue with. This, my friends, ALWAYS takes the wind out of emotional people. Oh and if they are yelling, screaming, swearing, insulting – welll, you just walk away from that. Nothing you can do will change it. So don’t waste your breath responding.
Rule #3: Stop Talking
People who talk all of the time stop being listened to. Listen more than you talk. Chances are you will learn more than you would have if you had been talking. There are people who rarely talk who should be listened to when they talk. Why? They likely can provide the most insight. Also, people who always talk and rant and stand on soapboxes stop being listened to by people. It’s like those Charlie Brown cartoons where all you hear when adults speak is “wah,wah,wah, waahh”. Same thing.
Rule #4: If you feel no one is understanding what you are trying to say, YOU need to figure out how to change your message.
I learned from an old boss’s mistake on this one. He believed if people didn’t understand what he was saying that it was their responsibility to change their thinking so it was in line with his message. He was a very direct person. So, when speaking to someone who needed facts, it was their problem, in his opinion, that they needed facts. They needed to understand that he was not going to provide them facts and accept his conclusion. Yeah, doesn’t work that way.  As I told the head of the finance and accounting department the other day, you need to know your audience and craft your message to meet it. If your audience needs a few facts, give them the facts. If you don’t, it will just create issues later. Saying the same message louder and more frequently does not work. Sorry.
Rule #5: Know what you know. Know what you don’t know. Know the difference. And be honest about it.

This is the greatest advice anyone ever gave me. Knowledge is not power. Knowledge does not show importance. Knowledge does not make you anything but a know-it-all. I know many people in my profession that have a wall full of certificates, and they still can’t do anything within a real world IT department. So, be clear about what you know and don’t know. Find someone who knows the stuff you do not. And, whatever you do, admit you don’t know something if asked. Do not be an expert when you are not one. And an expert is not someone with a degree or certificate – but has actual experience with the information – real world experience. Even though I have used Word, for example, for about 15+ years now, I would never call myself an expert. I am, however, an expert at finding the answer to my problem. I also know people who use it more than me I can ask. People rarely look down on you when you admit you don’t know something. But, if you act like you know something you don’t, the consequences when found out are a hell of a lot greater.
Rule #6: Always start with the problem.

This can be seen as an IT specific rule, but it isn’t. Many times, people have a great idea. And, I’m sure, it is a great idea. But, ask yourself (and others), what is the problem you are trying to solve? Define the problem, then solve that problem. Do not do it the other way around. Solutions looking for a problem rarely do anything but piss people off by wasting time and energy. Also, if you know this, people will be more apt to understand a change that is being implemented. But, simply putting out there that everyone has to wear blue shoes because a survey was read and blue is seen as a good color for combating afternoon fatigue is an interesting proposal, but does nothing but annoy people if that isn’t even a problem. Also, if everyone understands the problem, there isn’t a lot to discuss when the solution solves it.

Rule #7: If everyone around you seems crazy, you need to look in the mirror to see the real crazy person.
So many times in my life and career, I have encountered people who look at everyone around them and apply the same label. They are all stupid. They are all crazy. They are all uncooperative. Maybe it isn’t them. It is YOU. Keep that in mind when those around you all seem like the problem. It might be you. You might be the one who needs to change.

Rule #8: Lectures don’t work. Personal experience or even self reflection will get people to listen to you.
Try to cram your believes down people’s throats as though you are a know it all or expert, and they will fight back. This, my friends, is called human nature. When people feel like they are being talked down to, they will blow you off and/or fight back. And you will be labeled a problem.

Rule #9: Be friendly, but you can’t be their friends.
This is especially important if you are managing people. You can be nice. You can care, but at the end of the day, you have to be able to fire them. You are getting paid not to be friends, but to get a job done. A reality that sucks at times, but it is what it is.

Rule #10: Don’t take yourself too seriously because chances are people around you aren’t either.
Look. Here’s the reality. You are being talked about behind your back. People have an opinion about the job you are doing. You don’t have to care, but you can’t be surprised by it. If you do something stupid, laugh about it with them. Admit the mistake. And it will go a hell of a lot further than pretend there was none or that it ever happened. Just be honest.

Rule #11: If you don’t like what you are doing, ask yourself seriously why you are doing it.
This is something my grandpa used to say. When we played sports, he would always ask “are you having fun?” And if we said we weren’t, he’d ask why we were still doing it. I mean, there is a lot in life you have to do. Why stay with stuff you don’t like when you don’t have to do it. This is a good rule in general. Yes, the economy is bad. But, do you think you are doing the best job you can do if you hate what you are doing or where you are? No. Do you think you are hiding it? Absolutely not! If you hate it, if you are taking it personally – then get the hell out of it. If you don’t make that choice yourself, someone else will.

Like I said, these are all good rules for life too. 
Any ones I missed?

7 Comments Add yours

  1. IveyLane says:

    Great list, Emmy! I only have two that I’d add —

    1) don’t assume you’re the only smart person in the room.

    2) everyone on the team should be able to see and recognize their contribution to the project.


  2. These ain’t bad. I have many rules, usually made up on tje spot to justify whatever action I’m taking. A long time favorite though is simply ‘never do so much you can’t do more later.’

  3. Joker_SATX says:

    No, I think you have just about covered it! Great Post!

  4. Ms Scarlett says:

    Great set of rules to live by – applied to either the boardroom or life!

    Great post!

  5. southerngirl says:

    I wholly agree with you list especially number 3… stop and listen every once in a while, something might actually soak in. 🙂

  6. Are you sure you are not a therapist. People used to pay me big bucks to hear this stuff. Not sure how many times I have said pretty much the same thing. I think they are all important but if I had to pick one it would be the pick your battles. Too many people get hung up spinning their wheels over the wrong issue.

  7. John and Ann says:

    There is a corollary to Rule #1. Pick your battles, but when you go into battle do so under a black flag (referring to the maritime saying, not going into war jamming out to Henry Rollins singing Who’s Got the 10 1/2).

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