The Unspoken Code: A Businesswoman's No-Nonsense Guide to Making It In the Corporate World

The Unspoken Code: A Businesswoman's No-Nonsense Guide to Making It In the Corporate World

by Marja L. Norris


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Achieving success as a professional woman doesn’t have to be hard!

With over 30 years of experience rising through the ranks of the male-dominated world of finance, author Marja Norris knows all too well the challenges females continue to encounter in today's business culture. Over the decades, she’s learned how to expertly navigate the rules and expectations of the workplace, many of which remain unclear, unspoken, or unstated to females trying to make their mark. In The Unspoken Code, Norris equips young professional women with the tools they need to succeed by shining a spotlight on the subtle, sometimes controversial, norms they face as soon as they set foot in an office.

The Unspoken Code contains no-nonsense advice to help women climb the corporate ladder with confidence, as well as valuable insights from successful businesswomen reflecting on their own journeys to the top. The book's three sections guide readers towards their professional goals by awakening their own power within, perfecting both verbal and nonverbal communication skills in aggressive business environments, and showing the significance of how their dress impacts future career opportunities.

Today’s business culture is shifting towards equality, but it’s not shifting fast enough. The Unspoken Code empowers women to push through barriers with moxie and gives them confidence to achieve their professional dreams.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781626344242
Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press
Publication date: 08/01/2017
Product dimensions: 5.30(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Marja Norris is dedicated to the movement in helping women achieve their career goals with confidence and style. With a distinguished career in finance spanning over three decades, Marja has successfully navigated the male-dominated business world and is passionate about coaching women on how to be taken seriously, to be heard, and to get what they want at work. Her mission is to help women become the leaders they are meant to be. Marja is an alumnus of the board of directors for HAVEN, a nonprofit serving victims of domestic violence. She lives in Michigan with her husband Jerry, and is mother to two adult children.

Read an Excerpt


the ABCs of awakening your own power

"We cannot change what we are not aware of, and once we are aware, we cannot help but change."


Take a moment to think about a few professional women you consider the most successful in their fields. Close your eyes and imagine them. What do you see? Perhaps what comes to mind first is that they always look put together, from head to toe. They're able to express their professionalism in what they wear and how they wear it. They communicate a message without saying a word. What do you hear? If you're imagining a woman at the top of her field, you probably hear a voice that's clear, articulate, and personable. Somehow, these women manage to find the right thing to say in any situation, whether they're in a boardroom argument or speaking in a casual conversation at a holiday party. Style and communication are hugely important and immediately recognizable aspects of a woman's professional image.

But there's something else at play in these successful females that goes unspoken and is harder to pinpoint than a nice suit jacket. This "something" breathes life into these other characteristics and markers of success and makes them all the more noticeable. This "something" informs every interaction successful females have. It's what makes them truly stand out above the rest.

This "something" is the core of success: those core personality traits that every successful businesswoman has. Success begins with them and radiates from them. In this first chapter, you'll begin to learn the Unspoken Code of success, starting from the inside out. These are the ABCs of your future: attitude, behavior, and confidence. Harness these traits, and you will have a successful foundation to build upon.

A Is for Attitude

"There is little difference in people, but that little difference makes a big difference. The little difference is attitude. The big difference is whether it is positive or negative."


When it comes to interpersonal relationships, we often find ourselves navigating through a triangle of negativity where we act out either as a bully, victim, or rescuer. If we are not conscious of our attitudes, these roles begin to inform every element of our lives, both personally and professionally. When we step out of the triangle, we stop reacting and start acting. We stop allowing our buttons to be pushed and instead set the stage for a healthier space of communication and engagement. Therefore, the first step to awakening our own power is to shift our attitude toward action and away from reaction.

As an example, my husband and I recently made plans to meet for dinner after work. Before leaving for the office that morning, I put my coffee cup in the kitchen sink while I finished getting ready for the day. As I walked out the door a little later, my husband tartly said, "Why'd you leave your coffee cup in the sink?" I thought, Seriously? It's a freaking coffee cup. My instinct was to let myself be angry with him all day. I sulked for a bit, but then I realized I was caught up in my own victim story. Okay. What am I going to do ... double dip by ruining my day? I think not. So I let it go by changing my attitude, and my day was a productive and happy one. I was able to mentally step outside of the "victim triangle" and see the circumstance for what it really was.

Later that evening, however, as I was getting ready to meet my husband for dinner, those negative feelings rushed back. I thought, Geez, I don't even want to eat with this man after he gave me such a hard time about a coffee cup when I clearly have a million other things on my mind. I knew that if I let them, these thoughts would cast a negative light on the rest of the evening. That was my choice to make: I could let my own negative emotions get the better of me and react accordingly, or I could find a way to handle my frustrations in a more productive and mindful way, thus acting from a place of strength. So I asked myself: What will happen if I change my attitude, here and now? This awareness provides an opportunity to check in with what's really going on and make a decision based on facts rather than unchecked emotions.

Over dinner, I brought up our earlier exchange, asking him, "What was really bothering you this morning?" Jerry told me it had nothing to do with me. He admittedly had something else on his mind and took it out on me. Because I let go of anger and rationally raised the issue, he could acknowledge what he was feeling. He then apologized. What had started out as a problem turned out to be an opportunity for us to connect. Instead of holding on to that anger for longer and taking it personally, I shifted my attitude and we had an engaging night together.


What is your attitude? Is it generally positive or is some self-examination in order? Consciously or unconsciously maintaining a negative attitude creates unnecessary chaos and stress. You've got enough stress in your life with all that you're juggling. Shifting your attitude toward the positive will make life easier in countless ways.

"Your attitude, not your aptitude, will determine your altitude."


Webster's dictionary defines attitude as "a mental position, feeling, or emotion regarding a fact or a state." Put another way, attitude is how we choose to perceive the infinite number of inputs and events that surround us at any given moment. Usually, these inputs are neither bad nor good, negative nor positive — they're arbitrary until we place them in the larger context of our day, week, or month and begin to infuse them with meaning.

Let's use a red light as an example. On its own, the stop-light turning from green to red is a simple directive that moves traffic along. But if you're running late and rushing to get to work, each red light you encounter suddenly turns into a serious hindrance. It becomes an object of our anger, and we react accordingly.

Unfortunately, once we react to one input or event, it becomes all too easy to infuse all others that follow with that same negativity. It's no longer simply that you're late or that the stoplight held you up. Every minor detail suddenly becomes a hindrance to functioning at your best: the sticky elevator key, the too-talkative coworker, the boss's loud voice, your husband's coffee cup commentary ... the list, as we've all experienced, goes on and on. Once you're stuck in a cloud of negativity, it can feel impossible to exit. It permeates everything and everyone around you. Allowing yourself to exist in this negative cloud changes how you view situations, people, and important decisions you need to make. This is not a good thing. In fact, it can have downright detrimental consequences.


In any male-dominated profession, the male's perspective is the default. It's not fair, but it's the truth. And although they may try not to, men often bring their stereotypical underlying views of women into the workplace. Well, we don't have time to wait for them to change. Instead, we need to do what we can right now to show them that these stereotypes are wrong. Yes, this is a double standard. Every professional should work to be polite and positive, not rude or moody, and every professional should be given some slack when they falter. When men get angry, they're "passionate" or they're standing up for themselves. When women get angry, we're "too emotional," or worse, we're "bitchy." When women slip up, it reinforces what men assume about women already: This is confirmation bias. We need to stop ourselves from giving men the chance to make these wrong assumptions. Because of this bias against women, we need to be cognizant of our higher level of emotions and choose to uplift ourselves. Use humor like a Superwoman attitude of not letting circumstances get to you and an awareness of your control to climb out and up. Check.

When my husband commented on my placement of the coffee mug in the sink, I was able to choose how I'd react, instead of simply reacting. The mindfulness required to choose positivity over negativity is a habit that takes years to cultivate. When I first started out in the business world, this was not an easy task, but I knew that in order to get to where I wanted I had no other choice. That's how crucial attitude is to success.


When I first started my career as a businesswoman, I was raising a son alone, totally broke, and driving a long daily commute. I didn't feel I had much going for me. I often looked around at the successful executives as I swiftly walked from the parking garage to the banks of elevators and felt my life couldn't be more different than theirs. I was nineteen and coming out of an abusive marriage. I was a divorced, single mom receiving no child support, with no help from either family in watching my son, and working two jobs to pay my bills. I forced myself to smile. One day, an advisor in my office, Norm, asked me, "With everything going on, how do you stay so positive?" I looked at him and mustered, "Staying positive is a choice."

As a woman in a male-dominated field, I knew I faced more challenges than my male counterparts. I had to give it everything I had, which wasn't a lot. Outside of honesty and a willingness to learn and work hard, I had a positive attitude that I worked hard to perfect. Of course I had negative feelings about my situation, but I refused to let them define my life. I knew if I didn't maintain my positive attitude, I might fall apart. So to some degree, I faked it. If you can pull out a positive attitude in the midst of chaos, people will wonder what you've been up to and want some too.

We've been told bottling up feelings can lead to health issues such as muscle tension, high blood pressure, hormone imbalances, insomnia, and low self-esteem — none of which any of us can afford to entertain for long. Denying feelings is unhealthy — but we can't allow them to cripple us, ruining our lives and relationships. But maintaining a positive attitude does not require you to neglect your emotions. It simply requires a more mindful approach to the way we react toward those countless inputs. It requires us to make that mental shift — to step back when we feel ourselves becoming frustrated and ask ourselves, Is this the most productive way to manage this emotion right now? Can this wait?

An emotional hangover is evidence of a bad attitude. Once your mind clears, you feel guilty for losing your cool, whether publicly or privately. Deferring your frustrations until you're in a safer place to express them can be a liberating experience — and one you won't feel guilty about. One particularly frustrating day when I was driving home from work feeling overwhelmed, I allowed myself a good, long cry. Afterward, I felt better and was able to move on.

No fairy godmother will make your dreams of success come true. That's something you must do for yourself, and it's something you must strive for. In this way, maintaining a positive attitude is about mindfulness — but it's also about holding yourself accountable. You can't always choose your circumstances, but you can choose how you react to those circumstances. Attitude is one of the few aspects of life over which you have total control. And controlling it will work in your favor in countless ways, both personally and professionally. Don't lose out on opportunity by succumbing to feelings that the whole world — from the stoplight to the overpressured boss — is out to get you. Take accountability for your mindset, and be aware of the triangle of negative attitudes. If you choose to take control, your life will change for the better. Step back for a moment. Breathe. Shift and refocus. Smile. If at first your smile isn't genuine, that's okay. Smile anyway. The next time something or someone upsets you, take a few deep breaths and intentionally shift the feeling from negative to positive.

Have you ever talked to a frazzled businesswoman? (Remember our full plates.) Men tend to want to get out of her way. They don't talk about this issue of avoidance, but no doubt it's there. Shifting your attitude to a positive one and keeping it there helps to remove this stigma that women are more emotional.

"If you put your problems in a paper bag with all the rest of the world's problems and shake the bag up to see what your new problems will be, you'll likely decide to quickly take your own problems back."


If you're stressed about the stock market trending down, for example, turn your thoughts toward what a privilege it is to have money to invest. If you feel anger or sadness, recall a time when you've felt peace or happiness. Allow yourself to feel the emotion, but then let it go. If you need to, return to it at a time when you can process it more fully. Acting as a victim by letting whoever upset you take up space in your head gives away your power. Focus on what you do have and on the things for which you are grateful. Make the shift. Tough days are what give good days their radiance.

"Every thought we think is creating our future."


No matter what your circumstances, your attitude is a choice you make that affects everything you do. The way you choose to respond to feelings of frustration, pity, anger, or aggravation will affect your day, life, and health. Unfortunately, the way you respond can also feed into the exact stereotypes we as women are trying to subvert every day. Men should do their part to stop making wrong assumptions about women, but in the meantime, we need to acknowledge the Unspoken Code that every time we have a bad attitude we're displaying the very actions that some men have come to expect. Let's put a stop to this by being mindful and shifting our attitude toward something more positive.

B Is for Behavior

"Behavior is a mirror in which everyone displays his [her] own image."


Attitude involves our chosen mental state, experience, teachings, or environment. Behavior is the action or inaction we take that is influenced by our attitude. Controlling our behavior is a central component in workplace and personal success. Your behavior in the workplace is judged by whether you're meeting, not meeting, or exceeding the company's goals set forth for your position in performance reviews. Whoever you report to, whether it's your superior, a board, or company stockholders, will reward positive behavior. As you exceed expectations through disciplined behavior, the likelihood for advancement is high. Positive behavior results in personal success, whether it's in relationships, taking care of your health, or finances. True success isn't measured by wealth, a prestigious position, a happy relationship, or family. True success is the balance of success in all areas of your life, and that loops back to how behavior most often follows attitude.

Behavior is what you say and what you do. It's how you conduct yourself, your mannerisms, how you respond to what is going on around you, and how you interact with others. Behavior can convey emotional intelligence and show that you are a professional — that you are curious, polite, and open, especially when faced with a challenging situation.

Psychologist Nicholas Humphrey believes that social intelligence, rather than quantitative intelligence, truly defines human beings. Human behavior relies on an individual's intelligence quotient (IQ), emotional quotient (EQ), and social quotient (SQ). Everyone knows IQ and EQ are important when problem solving and dealing with other people, but the SQ is equally important, because it demonstrates your level of capability when functioning in complex social situations. For example, you can have a high IQ and even a relatively high EQ, but if you can't gracefully socialize with fellow executives, clients, or potential clients, you're going to fall flat on your face. If you're trying to get a budget approval to fund your brilliant project, an aloof personality or lack of social graces can be critically damaging to your goals and career.

How we behave is a large part of what puts us in or out of the advancement pool. Unprofessional behaviors like gossiping, talking excessively about your personal life, addiction to technology, giving excuses for laziness, acting like a prima donna, flirting, instigating rebellion, or complaining not only send the wrong message, they can also cost you your career. On the other hand, behaviors that make a positive professional impression — having a positive attitude, being detailed, being empathetic, encouraging others, displaying good manners, and carrying strong work ethics — can solidify your place in the advancement pool. You should give the kind of service and attention you want to receive. When you call someone, ask them if it's a good time to talk, and return phone calls on the same day. These are basics that every professional must master, but they are even more critical for women.


Excerpted from "The Unspoken Code"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Marja Style, LLC.
Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

1. The ABCs of Awakening Your Own Power,
2. The Hole in Your Glass Is Leaking,
3. Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First,
4. How to Play Ball with Men,
5. Tips and Scripts for Communication and Confrontation,
6. Create Space,
7. The Importance of Dressing for Success,
8. How to Dress the Part,
About the Author,

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