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Professionalism matters

I am surprised at how many people lack professional etiquette in the workforce. Too many unprofessional encounters have led me to believe it’s because people don’t quite understand what professionalism is. So, here goes:

1. Dress appropriately: There’s not much latitude when it comes to office attire in a regular cubicle environment. While niche offices (beauty salons, artist’s studio, etc.) might not have certain constraints, in most work-environments people are expected to dress professionally. So, no halter tops, no cleavage-showing, no micro mini skirts, no stockings with holes for women. No vests, no sweats, no clinging shirts, no bling for men. In short — you’re not there to party or express your personality. You’re there to work, so dress accordingly.

2. You are the organization: For an outsider you’re your organization’s ambassador. You’re the talking head. The representative. Keep that in mind when interacting with clients. What you say, do, or wear reflects on the organization you’re working for. If you don’t demonstrate pride in your work or respect for it, no one else will.

3. Accept critique: A lot of people take critique personally. Please don’t. If I were to cry every time¬† an editor told me I needed to write a second draft (Boo hoo! So, you’re saying the first draft wasn’t PERFECT!?!?!), I’d be drowning in a sea of my own tears. You’re there to learn, stretch your mind, expand upon your skills . Welcome critique with open arms. It’s only helping you grow — even if it isn’t helpful, it still teaches you patience! It doesn’t mean you suck; it’s just a way of telling you there is potential for something better. Embrace it.

4. Don’t socialize your day away: We spend more time at work than we do with our families any given weekday, so it’s natural to develop “friendships” in the workplace. But remember to keep social banter to a minimum. Your first priority is work and while everyone enjoys a bit of office gossip here and there, your water cooler conversations shouldn’t take over your day. Go for lunch or dinner with your office pals, grab a mug of beer or a cup of coffee outside office hours. Your office space wasn’t meant to be your personal living room. Also, remember that perception is reality — you may get all your deadlines met and be a top-notch worker, but if people know you for your rumor-milling or domestic-adventure stories more than your work ethic, there’s something wrong with that picture.

5. Beware of social media time sinks: Sure everyone’s on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Buzz and all those other time sinks, but if it isn’t part of your job profile, you really shouldn’t be using your work time to update your status or send tweets by the minute. I’ve had people make clients wait just so they could finish posting their latest photos to Facebook. Nothing tells a client that you’re not serious about your work as peering over your shoulder to see the Facebook logo staring back.

6. Don’t whine all the time: Nobody likes a whiner. Period. Everyone has loads of stuff to do. Everyone is spread thin. Everyone has zero budget. We get it. It’s ok to vent once in a while, but if you’re always complaining all you’re doing is bringing everyone’s morale down. It’s bad enough to begin with — no one needs it slapped in their faces all the time. Also, if you’re whining all the time, it won’t take long for people to mutter under their breaths: “If it’s so bad, why don’t you leave?”

7. Watch how you speak and how you write: Wassup?¬† See ya later dawg! Dude, hurry up! — not exactly office speak. You’re a white-collar worker in a professional work environment — act the part. Also, watch that slang in your professional communication. While emoticons and CUL8Rs may be alright when chatting with your buddies, office e-mail requires a certain amount of “seriousness.” Typing full words and coherent sentences makes a difference.

8. Don’t tie your emotions with your job: Some people take everything you tell them personally. Your job is not you. You are not your job. Stop getting your emotions in the mix. Don’t be detached, but don’t be so invested in your job that if roadblocks occur, you experience a nervous breakdown. Be civil even if you don’t get along with someone.

9. Respect other people’s time: Never leave people waiting. When you show up late you’re telling folks that you don’t really care. It’s insulting. It’s disrespectful. Just as you have a gazillion things to do, so do they. If you absolutely can’t make it on time, it’s professional courtesy to call ahead and let the other person know you’re running behind. When you say you’ll be there, mean it.

10. Don’t be cocky: Remember, everyone is dispensable. And you’re not above this rule. So, do your job well. But don’t forget that the machine will carry on just as well without you. You may be great at what you do, but you’re not the only one. Be proud of who you are and what you do, but don’t go rubbing it in people’s faces. With talent, comes humility.

This isn’t by any means a comprehensive list. Just the “top 10” compilation, if you will, from my personal experiences with those snooty, self-absorbed nincompoops….eh…no need to be uncivil — let’s just say “those unprofessional people.”

Have more tips? Do share.

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Day after day after day…

It’s 7:41 p.m. PST.
An entire day gone by in a whirlwind of activity.
Meetings, phone calls, e-mails, conversations around the office, IMs.
Non-stop exchange of information.
Reactions. Elation. Emotions.

The need for a pause button deepens.
No reprieve from the craziness.
As I splash some water on my face
I close my eyes and let my mind slip away.

The hummingbird reappears.
And the chuckle of my friends’ kids.

I scrub the accumulating dead skin.
Brushing off the tiredness.
The demands. The deadlines. The pressure.
Disappearing like the micro soy granules
Into the sinuses of the sink.

I look at myself.
A streak of red

Brightening the tired kohl eyes.
A quiver of a smile.

Today is over.
Tomorrow is another day.

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Civility: A golden rule

Sitting across the board room conference table you have a disagreement with your colleague — do you shout and tell them to shut up because you know you’re right?

Do you stand up defiantly, raise your hand, and say, “You are useless. You have no idea what you’re talking about. Get out!”

Do you cross your arms against your chest and with piercing eyes, say, “So what? I don’t give a damn!”

Do you attack their personal beliefs, drag their marriage or sexuality into your rant, and shower profanities?

Do you stuff your fingers in your ears as they start to speak and run around the room going “La la la la la la la la”?

No.

You would probably try to rationalize in a calm voice. You would most likely say something like, “I guess you’re trying to say ABC, but hear me out because I’m saying XYZ.”

You would, if you were talking about something diametrically against their point of view, perhaps even go to the extent of saying, “You are looking at this from your perspective, but the way I see it…”

Maybe you’d count to 10. Think and rethink before you blurt out. Wonder if it’s belaboring a point and a waste of everyone’s time.

Maybe you’ll even put yourself in the other person’s shoes and decide to give them another chance.

What you wouldn’t do is call the person names or even obliquely try to drag any personal issues, theirs or yours, into that professional conversation.

There is something that holds you back from shouting like a two-year-old and having your voice heard. Something that tells you it’s inappropriate. Something that restrains you from being rude, uncivil, impolite, and crass.

It may be the fear of getting fired. Or being judged. Or just holding a high personal and professional standard. It might also be an ingrained part of your being that came from a good education.

You might disagree completely with a person, but you wouldn’t be uncivil.

In most cases, the same behavior transfers to personal relationships.

Maybe you fight a little harder, show your emotions more openly, point fingers, and sulk with your loved ones. But even then, you don’t intentionally, at least, disrespect them. You try not to generalize and either try to bring the argument to a resolution or agree amicably to disagree in favor of living under the same roof peacefully.

But when it comes to conversations on the Internet — be it instant messages, responses to “controversial” status updates or tweets, or even blog comments, that something that keeps us civil in other settings doesn’t seem to apply.

Don’t get me wrong — most people are as courteous in their written communication within the social media sphere as they are in real life, but there are a significant number that shock me with their smuttiness.

They hurl abuses. Get personal. And stray off-topic just to show a person down.

No restraints. No courtesy. No room for agreement.

No room for anything except their point of view.

And not all of them hide behind the cover of anonymity either. When they post something extremely offensive in response to an NPR report on Facebook or tweet a rude personal, albeit public, comment to a Washington Post reporter, their names and Twitter handles are visible to all. Yet, they somehow feel protected. For some reason the intertubes provide them with a notion of safety. Of being untouchable.

This is where they can give someone their piece of mind. Someone they don’t even know. Someone they’ve probably never met … and never will.

Maybe that is the crux of the issue…

The fact that this “someone” is “somewhere” in the ether — a real person but with no real significance.

Someone who they don’t have to interact with on a daily basis. Someone who they are never going to get close to. Someone who doesn’t really matter to them.

And if they don’t matter — heck, why care about them? Why bother with being civil? Why spend time being polite? Why not just dump all your angst on this person and move on … to your next target?

It’s easy.

And I guess that’s why people uninhibitedly curse on the road or flip off motorists. They don’t know ’em, so how does it matter?

But isn’t this behavior the most telling of one’s character? Doesn’t this devil-may-care attitude and crassness online reflect on who they are as a person more than anything else? The internet just brings out their true nature. This is the real them — callous, close-minded, narcissistic, stubborn men and women who refuse to acknowledge the existence of another perspective. They will argue to death with a stranger who “doesn’t matter,” so to speak, just to satisfy their egos.

And if you’re on the receiving end of such bashful commentary, what do you do? Do you also stoop to their level to show them who’s the man? Or do you take the high road?

It’s easy to get sucked into the rudeness spiral. But, just as in real life face-to-face confrontations, you control your actions online. Just as you wouldn’t flip off someone you know, just as you would tell someone being rude to you that it’s inappropriate and you don’t appreciate it — you ought to be the calm, rational, composed person online.

I’m not advocating taking crap from anyone, but don’t lose your decency.

You’re better than that.

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Also posted on Writers Rising.

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