MurphyMerton Leadership Coaching

10 simple rules for staying sane at work

Work is a lot. So consider these ‘rules’ small antidotes for the challenges of life in a matrix. But they’re not cynical. They’re cool-headed, and maybe a little Zen. And cool heads keep us sane.

They’re also simple. Each rule sort of contains all the rules. And they kind of work on you. (OK, that’s deep, so don’t think about it too hard.)

The point is this: pick one and life at work becomes easier. Use more than one and you’ll start to make other people’s life at work easier too.

And when things feel unfair or the chips are down, which will happen, that cool voice in the back of your head may just keep you from shooting yourself in the foot.

1   Accept that work is political.

Sorry. It just is.

And grumbling about politics at work and occasional injustices doesn’t make things any easier. It just drives you nuts.

That doesn’t mean you need to play politics. But work is excruciating without a little political muscle. And that muscle creates choices, which makes it easier for you to move. So the sooner you make peace with this reality, the easier your life at work becomes.

Yep, it’s political. Nothing more.

2  Expect people to annoy you.

People are annoying. So annoying. If you really want people to annoy you less at work, be less annoying. That’s a tall order. So why not just accept what’s already true?

We can still do a lot of great work even while annoying the crap out of each other. 

And that will be most of the time.

3  Want the best for people – and plan for them to behave like assholes.

No, not sociopathic narcissistic assholes, but ordinary assholes. (Um… like me before coffee on any given day.)

But don’t be fooled. This rule works in a juicy and non-cynical way: it requires us to prepare differently. Better said, it requires us to prepare. Full stop.

That means planning ahead and showing up, armed not with defenses, but with foresight, along with a few Ninja moves – and the understanding that life and work are… hard. Well-meaning people get clobbered daily. And some actual jerks do make life at work miserable.

So expect friction and bad moods (including yours). You’re dangerous in a delicious way if you admit in a meeting you’re in a prickly mood or you’re able to disarm an average Wednesday-morning jerk. And if you’re alert and prepared, you can even have good conversations with political operators or real jerks.

Why? You’ve prepared while they probably have not.

4  Become a stealth negotiator.

To be better negotiators requires us to be better listeners. I don’t mean this in a fluffy way. It’s super pragmatic. Just look at any job opening: work has become a continuous game of influencing literally everyone.

But there’s no way to influence without negotiating. That’s because negotiating isn’t about getting what we want, it’s about listening to what other people want. And they will tell you. You don’t have to like it or align with it, but it’s valuable information, which gives you room to maneuver.

Who knows? It might even cause you to change your mind.

5  Make things easier. (Don’t be a drag.)

We drag our perceptions, feelings, and opinions into nearly everything. And we spend a lot of time analyzing what’s broken, or worse, other people’s motivations and behaviors. Now, that’s very human. But at best, such analysis is incomplete. Usually, it’s just wrong. WRONG.

It’s also sure to annoy the wrong people. So make things easier for yourself (and everyone else) by leaving those tired stories alone. They’re not only heavy, they’re not interesting. Lighten up.

And TELL BETER STORIES. Ones that your audiences actually care about. How do you know what they care about?

Simple: they will tell you.

6  Stop negotiating on behaviors.

Just reading those four words feels like a drag. So for your own sanity, just stop.

People will never change to fit what we want. And negotiating on behaviors never works. That’s a lot of NEVERS. But no one ever changed their annoying behavior based on someone’s annoyed feedback.

If you’re really sincere about growth of any kind, abandon the behavior conversations altogether. Give people way more interesting things to think about and much better reasons to negotiate – with you.

7  Stop waiting for role clarity or direction.

It’s not coming.

Do you deserve it? Of course.

But if someone knew, they’d tell you. They really would. So pressing for clarity about your work pushes someone else to solve a problem they don’t know how to solve. That’s sure to backfire. On you.

So make a best guess from wherever you are, and then keep moving forward.

8  Please don’t stay in your lane.

Your work is not limited to your current role, which was only someone else’s limited guess months ago. Work and orgs are constantly shifting. And “stay in your lane” is confusing direction at best.

The truth is anything new or interesting or good requires us to interact with lots of people outside our lanes. But please(!) don’t ask for permission to change lanes, which is sure to result in “NO.” That’s because no one else has the mental energy to think about your work the way you do.

A little stealth goes a long way.

So keep listening and building relationships, knowing this for sure: nothing interesting will ever happen if you stay in your lane.

9  Don’t burn bridges or blow your cool.

Work is political. Everyone is annoying, and occasionally we’re jerks. So play it a little cool. And fight every impulse to tell off both jerks and sincere but annoying people. You’ll be grateful for those relationships one day. I promise.

10  Just lead.

After all, what’s the alternative?


So just lead from wherever you are, in whatever role you’re in right now. Then do it again tomorrow.


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Work differently.