Monday, 22 August 2011

Social Norm Violators - Be Gone!

I showed up at work today and was surprised by my colleague's choice of attire. Under normal circumstances, I barely notice what someone else is wearing. Today was different.  At first, I was slightly irritated.  But the more I saw this woman, the more it bothered me.  By mid-day, I was completely worked up.  I had to ask myself - why was my colleague's dress attire making me crabby? The answer? Social norms.

I like social norms. In fact, it's one of the main reasons I travel. They fascinate me. Discovering a new social norm brings me immense happiness. It's how I have organized the world around me. To me, social norms explain people's behavior and it's how I make sense of this chaotic world.

So, when someone consistently violates a social norm, it bothers me. I ask myself all kinds of questions. Why are they not behaving in accordance with the social norm? Are my assumptions around the social norm correct? Do they have good reason to break the social norm? Is my system of social norms failing me? And the more unanswered questions I ask myself, the more irritated I become. 

So what are the social norms I'm all worked up about?
  1. Women DO NOT show their shoulders in a conservative work environment. 
  2. Women wear a strapless bra with a halter top.
I know, it shouldn't be a big deal - my colleague showed up today in a halter top with bra straps showing.  Two social norms were violated.  I understand there will be exceptions to this rule. Like when it's 95 degrees outside. Or if the AC is broken. Or if all your tops were burned in a fire except for the lone halter top. None of these circumstances hold true.

My colleague's choice of clothing today is perplexing.  She holds a position of leadership in a Fortune 500 company.  She has been previously talked to about the company's dress code policy which prohibits wearing halter tops.  But most perplexing, is that her behavior does not fit into my system of social norms.

She and I had a video conference call with our India colleagues today and their eyes almost popped out of their head.  Do my assumptions around social norms still hold true?  I think the answer is yes.

1 comment:

  1. This actually did make me laugh out loud! I can well imagine the Indian reaction...brilliant.