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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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Winning isn’t everything

I’ve often wondered where our urge to win stems from. What prompts us to want to come first? Why is coming second or third not good enough?

As a kid, I was always taught that winning isn’t everything and yet when it came to class tests or sports meets, my parents would set the bar so high that, sometimes, it was almost impossible to reach.

As an abstract concept it worked well, but in reality, not so much.

When the report card came, instead of congratulating me on scoring 92 percent in the finals, my dad would ask, “Who came first?” followed by “How could she score 95 percent and you couldn’t?”

Dejected and teary-eyed I’d head to my room.

Later I would be taken out to dinner as a “treat” and mom and dad would look proudly at me, encouraging me to study harder, nudging me to go that extra mile.

I was a bright kid — they didn’t want to see my talent go waste. And they knew that out in the world, coming first was going to get me places. No one cared if you were one of the top three, let alone the top five, they reasoned.

Some children cheated — took little “chits” to class, had their art projects completed by their moms, indirectly bribed the teachers.

Because winning meant too much.

And since everyone was doing it, it was somehow justified.

So much for the mandatory moral science classes all of us attended.

I was too self-righteous. And my mom was too busy.

Most of all, I couldn’t lie to myself.

Because at the end of the day, all said and done, you might have good grades on paper, but in your heart you know you’re a failure. You may have it but you know you didn’t deserve it.

I didn’t want sleepless nights.

I knew my parents had a lot of expectations from me, but I had decided early on that my best is all I could give it. And if it wasn’t good enough to earn me the best spot then so be it.

Even today I see my friends urge their toddlers to out run each other, to come first, to be better … nay, to be the best.

Because what good is second-best?

And every time someone says, “it’s all about participation,” or “it’s all about having fun” — they’re perceived as talking to the losers’ club.

But isn’t that really the essence of competitions? The ability to show one’s mastery over a subject or a sport with the help of an opponent? About enjoying yourself?

It’s not about showing the world that you’re the best, it’s about being the best you can be. There’s a distinct difference between the two.

That’s not how the world works, though.

Winning and cheating go hand-in-hand. We learn that there are moral, social, economic repercussions for those who cheat; that those people pay somehow, some time, somewhere…but when we look around us we find them getting better grades, more money, more power.

The hunger to win feeds corruption. It brings out not only the best, but also the worst in us.

Think about it the next time you feel dejected about your (or your children’s) less-than-desirable performance report.

If you gave it your best shot, be content.

This is an abstraction that when applied in reality will serve you well.

Read David’s well-written post on the same subject, especially the study [PDF] he refers to about bronze medal winners in the Olympics who were “simply happy to have received any honors at all (instead of no medal for fourth place).”

In the end it’s all about perception — the one you have of your self outweighs what anyone else thinks of you.

Go get ’em, tiger!

 

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Facebook: your personal recommendation engine

Facebook is more popular than Google. At least it was in the week ending March 13.

Even though it was a miniscule 0.4 percent increase over visits to the Internet search giant, it got a lot of tongues wagging.

From being a platform where people raise virtual animals and open up their lives, Facebook is fast becoming a forum to get personal recommendations.

A handful of my friends have connected their TripAdvisor and Yelp profiles to Facebook making their hotel stays and restaurant reviews available to their network. But most people I know are using their status updates to publish queries, especially when making travel plans.

Going to the Grand Canyon area — any recommendations on where to stay?

Visiting Idaho — what are some cool things to do besides visiting boh-ring lava fields ?

Is in Honolulu — where to get the best mai tais?

Instead of “googling” this information and relying on the collective wisdom of random strangers, these folks are tapping into their network — which, if it consists of friends and family with shared interests, would make it an unbeatable resource.

A goldmine of viable ideas.

The real value lies in getting suggestions from people you know. More important: these are people who know you and your interests.

You could be off to the theater district, eating the best local fare, and hanging out with surfer dudes if you ask the right folks. But be careful before you announce your plans on any social media network — if you really don’t want to reconnect with your former high school sweetheart in person (even though you “friended” her on Facebook because it was oh-so-harmless), make sure she isn’t on the list of people with access to your status updates.

Always follow the mantra: think before you post.

And create lists with variable access.

You could have one called “Close friends” who have access to everything — photos, notes, status updates, your wall. Another one called “Acquaintances” for people who can’t see your bikini shots but can read your status updates. A third called “Colleagues,” who have access to your wall but nothing else. And so on.

There are ways to tap into the potential of social networking while still maintaining your privacy. Use it wisely.

How do you use Facebook? Do you see it becoming your personal recommendation engine?

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Writing is all about editing

One of the most critical aspects of writing is often the one most overlooked: editing. Everyone thinks they can write. But there is a difference in writing, and writing well. That difference is where the editor comes in.

Looking to trim unnecessary words, making expressions stronger, paraphrasing quotes, moving critical information to the top, ending with a punch — the editor looks at the written piece with new eyes. Critical ones.

Weeding away the fluff. Polishing the rough edges. Making the piece sing.

It’s hard to retain the voice of the writer and yet capture the essence of an article. What’s harder is editing your own content.

I’ve been trained in school and on the job to never let the first draft be the final one. I write my initial thoughts. Build a structure. Fill in all the details. And walk away.

Re-reading what I’ve written a day, or sometimes even a couple of hours, later helps me finesse it. I can usually make it sharper. Add some interesting visuals. Make sure it all holds together well.

Then I think of a title that sums up the piece. And subheads that will move it along forward if it’s a lengthy article or blog post.

Finally I proofread. I’ve learned that relying solely on a spellchecker isn’t worth the time you save.

For my blog posts, I then add tags, choose categories, and, after a little bit of trepidation, hit the Publish button.

Even though this is an informal platform, it’s important to not let the quality of your writing lapse. It doesn’t matter what or why you write or blog —  editing takes your writing from a collection of thoughtful expressions to effective communication.

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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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Dear New Parents

As I mentioned in one of my earlier blog posts, I am surrounded by children under the age of two these days. It also means, being around frenzied, sleep-deprived adults. They’re reading books, visiting sites online, getting (sought or unsought) advice from parents in India, craving time with and away from their kid, consolidating trips to the grocery store, doctor, and Toys “R” Us, and in general waiting for this phase to be done and over with.

Even though I don’t experience the craziness of the 24/7 “demands” that newborns thrust on their parents, I hear about it enough to make it real for me. And I find myself doling out advice to my harried friends every time we talk. Most of it is stuff they’d realize themselves were they not this stressed out. Their acceptance of my counsel gives me the confidence today to share some pointers with the world at large.

So, here are some tips for (relatively) new parents from the vantage point of a person who can still see things objectively:

  1. You are only one person — more often than not, I have to tell my friends to stop being the supermom or superdad. You can’t possibly do the laundry, cook five meals, constantly wash dishes, do the groceries, run other errands, vacuum the house, mow the lawn, and take care of a child all in one day. And if you have full-time professional demands — aaiyyaaiyyaaii! Schedule. Prioritize. Share responsibilities. Create a to-do list for the week and stick with it.
  2. Don’t overthink — What will other parents say? Can I dress my little girl in blue? Should I feed him eight times a day like the neighbors suggested? You know your child best and as long as he/she is happy and healthy what’s there to worry about? Listen to your instincts and focus on what really matters.
  3. YOU are important, too — For your child to be happy and for you to be happy with your li’l one, you need to make sure you devote some time to your own well-being, both mental and physical. Somewhere in that to-do list, put down 15 minutes of me time every day. When the kid’s asleep in the afternoon, watch TV, flip through a magazine, do your nails, play a little Wii golf, just sit and breathe. Yes, there are dishes to clean and clothes to be folded, but if you’re running around taking care of business all the time, you’ll drive yourself crazy. 15 minutes isn’t a lot to ask for, is it? And yet, it is just enough to bring back some sanity in your life. Those dishes aren’t going anywhere.
  4. Every bump on the head isn’t a medical emergency — They are kids. They will fall. They will hurt themselves. And they will be either obsessed with bandaids, or pull them out. As scary as it might be when your kid starts wailing each time he/she hits himself, every injury doesn’t merit a run to the emergency room. Not even 2 percent of such incidences (in my experience with my limited sample set of friends) merit a call to the emergency nurse line. Calm down. Think back to the time you were a kid — remember all those bruises you got speeding down the gravel road on your spanking new tricycle? Yeah. Your kid will survive, too.
  5. This is 2010 — These kids start swiping the moment they get their hands on an iPhone. They “get” video chat. They eat only when YouTube’s on. They dance to iPod tunes. They pull out keyboard keys before they learn how to hold a pencil. They are the most photographed generation of all time. This is the world they know. This is the world you’re exposing them to. So, stop fretting about their lost “innocence.” They’re still going to be as curious about eating mud or squishing snails.
  6. Stop apologizing for the mess — We get it. Kids want to play with adults. They seek attention. They will bring their toys one by one for adults to partake. And they might leave them sprawled all over. They will eat and spit out whatever they don’t like. They will wipe gooey hands on our clothes because they don’t know any better. They will periodically throw up. As they grow, they will learn. For the time being, stop saying sorry all the time for the mess they create. And clean up! 🙂
  7. Be disciplined — This is a big one! You have to be the role model here. Start a routine and stick with it. Kids catch on fast and if they see you’re slacking, they won’t care either. Be consistent with their food, their play time, their nap time, their discipline — it’s hard (who said it was going to be easy?) but once you’ve set the rules and stuck to them, life becomes so much easier to manage.
  8. Be a spouse — In all the work that goes into being a parent, folks forget they have responsibilities toward each other as well. You aren’t just mummy and daddy — you’re also husband and wife. Steal a moment to hug, to kiss, to be together. Talk — and not just about the kid. Listen — and not just for updates. Kids tend to bring spouses closer together but sometimes also drive them further apart. Remember to keep working on your marriage. Nurture each other.
  9. Take a break — As much as you love your kid, sometimes you just need to get away. Ask friends you trust to babysit (but remember not to impose), get a nanny, call your parents/in-laws, inquire with the playgroup, ask your spouse to take over for a day. Get out of the house for a while … go to a park, the mall, the library … wherever. Come back renewed. You’ll love being smothered with hugs and sloppy kisses when you enter the house.
  10. Enjoy it while it lasts — When they were three months old, you wanted them to start crawling. When they started crawling, you wished they’d start walking. When they started walking, you wished they’d talk. Now that they’ve started talking, you want them to say full coherent sentences. Before you know it, they’ll be all grown up and out of your nest. Cherish this time. Live in the moment. Even if it means 40 back-to-back iterations of Ba-ba-black sheep, sing it with them. It fills their heart with joy. It teaches you life is simple and happiness easily attained.

Got other tips for relatively new parents?

Please share.

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Keep the momentum going

When I started this blog last year, I had every intention of populating it with good content on a weekly, if not daily, basis. But within a couple of weeks, the enthusiasm fizzled away. I switched jobs, went on a two-week safari adventure, and then got busy with … life. You know how it is.

Ever since I revived the blog on January 12, I vowed that I’d not let it be a repeat of last year’s half-hearted endeavor. I’ve heard from a lot of people on forums lately that keeping the momentum going is a common problem.

You already have a theme in mind, topics of interest, the focus of your blog — that part is all panned out. The problem is thinking of fresh content that will interest your readers.

Perhaps, some of these tips will come in handy as you continue your expedition in the blogosphere:

  • Read: newspapers, magazines, other blogs — they offer you food for thought. Chew, digest, and then write what you think about the goings-on.
  • Watch: TV, movies, people around you — observe quirks, analyze storylines, review interpersonal interactions, and then reflect.
  • Listen:  to podcasts, the radio, songs, mutterings in the workplace, the little voice inside your head — appreciate, synthesize, and then compose.
  • Smell: food, the fresh air, the earth when it rains, your kid’s diaper, perspiration, perfume — inhale/exhale, pause, and then scribe.
  • Taste: chocolate, tears, wine, success — relish and then share.
  • Feel: anger, love, pain, confusion, happiness, whimsy — pour it all out.

There’s plenty that happens on an everyday basis to provide you with good material for blogging. Life happens — and instead of using it as an excuse not to blog, use it to leverage your writing.

All you need is an open mind, a willing heart, and discipline.

Got other tips? Do share.

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