The Art of Professionalism, Part 2

5-18-2015 BIn my last post, I posed the questions of what is professionalism and how do you know if your appearance is perceived as professional or unprofessional? The Art of Professionalism Part 1 was all about dressing appropriately for the workplace. Part 2 tackles other behavior that might affect the way others perceive you.

One topic that I think is noteworthy is body language, including facial expression. Last week, a colleague and I were discussing body language and the things you don’t realize you are doing. For her, it’s the eye roll. For me, it’s the blank stare on my face as I am listening. The blank stare means the gears are turning in my brain and I’m trying to figure things out. I can’t explain my colleague’s eye roll except that thankfully, I haven’t observed her rolling her eyes at me. Yet.

If you are feeling confident – and trust me, be ready and willing to accept the most brutally honest feedback about yourself before you ask – I encourage you to reach out to a colleague, mentor, even your boss, and find out if there are things you are doing that you might not even realize. You might be surprised at what you hear, but accept it and work toward eliminating whatever negative behavior it may be.

Let’s talk about the not-so-warm-and-friendly facial expression. We all have one. It could be a frown, or undertones of a scowl, and maybe it’s not work-related (maybe it’s just your face!), but as the person sitting across the room from the not-so-warm-and-friendly facial expression, it can be intimidating. I think I am guilty of this sometimes when I am problem-solving, stressed, or having a bad day. It’s during those times that I have to put extra effort into smiling at others so that if they see my not-so-warm-and-friendly face later they don’t get the impression that I’m just a mean old grouch.

Sometimes, we look professional and have all the right body language, but it’s our behaviors that really hurt us. A negative behavior that I’ve observed (and I am personally working to improve on) is getting distracted by the phone or email or what have you, while in the middle of a conversation or meeting, etc. We wouldn’t treat customers like this, so why would we treat our colleagues like this? When someone is in my office and my phone rings or my email dings, I do my best to ignore it until there is an appropriate time to check in. Doing otherwise tells the other person that their time is not as valuable as whoever is on the other end of the phone or email. Once, I introduced a colleague to one of my employees, and the colleague didn’t look up from her phone, she simply said ‘hi’ and continued emailing or texting. I felt terrible for my employee.

Understanding that sometimes emergencies come up, my advice is if you must take a call or respond to an email mid-meeting, just tell the person you’ll be right with him/her. Apologize for the interruption and explain that it’s urgent. Or, maybe you are using your device to take notes or get the ball rolling on action items – Great use of technology! Just explain what you are doing so that the perception is not that you are texting or Snapchatting. To do otherwise is very unprofessional, in my opinion.

Other behavior that can either help you or hurt you in terms of your professional cred: Communication-related behavior. Have you ever written an email, hit ‘send,’ and then realized the tone used was not-so-warm-and-friendly? What about being on the receiving end of one of those messages and then firing one back? Again, something I personally am working on getting better at. It’s easy to start a full out war via email when the tone of the message is misunderstood. My advice is to know your audience, and if you think there is some miscommunication going on, or if it’s a sore subject… pick up the phone! It’s much easier to discuss over the phone than by firing email back and forth while tensions continue to rise.

I could continue to thoroughly explore this topic, but it would be more fun to hear from you! What are your thoughts on professionalism? Any advice for our young professionals out there in the best attitudes, behaviors, and practices to get ahead on the professionalism scale? Let’s hear ‘em.

One final note – I didn’t learn about these things by reading blogs or articles or books… I mostly learned from my own personal experience. As professional as I think I may be, there are times when I make a misstep. It happens to all of us! The dos and don’ts can get complicated, but the recovery is simple: Sincerely apologize if you mess up. Easy peasy!

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