The Importance of Professionalism

            Professionalism is a word that may have gone by the wayside, but according to requests that I receive for seminar topics, many people want to bring it back.  When I share information about professionalism, I receive wonderful, encouraging feedback. That is so great!

            Why is professionalism important?  It provides more confidence, you come across as more polished, and you’re seen as more intelligent and capable.  You’re more likely to be promoted and/or given raises when you’re seen as more professional.

            So, how do we portray our professionalism?  First, attitude.  You are there to work.  You are paid to work.  You are not there to chat, eat, or surf the internet.  Go in with the attitude that you are grateful to have a job, and keep your attitude good.  Be professional at all times.  Attitude = action = altitude; said another way, Outlook = outcome.

            Another way professionalism is clearly indicated is through our language.  This, in fact, takes on a multitude of meanings.  First and foremost, language means no naughty words.  Of course, people already know this, but it doesn’t mean that they follow it. But some words that may be acceptable in a peer group are really not acceptable in the professional world, such as c, r, a, p and s, u, c, k, s.  There are better words to be used.

            That leads to the next point within language, vocabulary.  While a comment such as, “I had a great weekend,” gets the point across, the sentence, “I had an adventurous weekend,” is more likely to develop into an interesting conversation.  Expand your lexicon.  Try new adjectives.  Improve your syntax.

            This leads to the point of language.  Overuse of terms such as “you know”, and dotting your conversation with ums and ers does not single you out as an exemplary communicator.  Learn to stop adding prepositions to the end of your sentences, such as, “Where is the party?” NOT “Where is the party at?”   The second is simply incorrect, although commonly heard.  You sound more intelligent using proper grammar.  Winston Churchill’s famous quote says it best:  “Ending a sentence with a preposition is something up with which I will not put.”

            The last tip to share regarding language is the use of people’s names.  The most beautiful sound in the world is the sound of your own name—when it is accurately pronounced.  Use people’s names often while conversing, but be sure you heard it correctly so you don’t call Joan Jo, or mispronounce it, calling Leatha Lisa—true challenges.  Also, don’t add or subtract from a name.  If a gent introduces himself as Michael, don’t call him Mike.  And if Robert James Montgomery introduces himself with both names, don’t truncate it to Robert, thinking you’re doing him a favor by not calling him Bob.  Use names, pronounce them correctly, and spell them correctly when writing.  Decide now to keep your standards high.

            Your appearance reflects mightily on who you are, and how people respond to you.  Beyond the obvious of dressing appropriately—dressy in a formal situation and casual when the situation calls for it, there are some other basic rules.  Ensure clothes fit, are pressed, and are clean.  I used to be shocked when I found people rumpled and inappropriately attired in the business world.  Now, whenever I share basic rules of business dress, I am approached after the seminar by people who need to share that they’ve interviewed people who have broken one or all of the rules, thus were denied employment, before the interview even began.

            The same rules, appropriate and clean, are true for hair and accessories.

Posture.  Posture?  Yes!  Your posture is a loud non-verbal communication device.  Stand tall, no matter what your height.  Slumping, slouching, and leaning portray an I-don’t-care attitude, which is not professional.  Your mama was right, posture matters.

Basic rules for clothes, for both men and women, follow:  Regarding collars, t-shirts are for the beach.  You are representing your company as well as yourself, so dress the part.  Even though a sports shirt is acceptable in some circumstances, but a button up shirt is better.  Dresses for women must be acceptable length and tightness and accessories are often a good idea.  Closed toed shoes, never flip flips, are better for men and women. 

For both men and women, you need to own at least one suit and you’re much better off buying one good suit versus two cheap suits.  You can’t afford to buy cheap.  They fall apart, they look bad, and you’re not taken seriously.  Here again, quality shows.  The nice thing is that suits can look different by changing the shirt and accessories, ties for men, scarves and jewelry for women.

In a slight aside, this is the time to consider colors – learn what color looks good on you and use the knowledge.  Some colors just aren’t as good in the office.  Navy and grey are always safe.

            For women, you need to consider your make up – the best dressed, most professional woman in the office can look like a clown without good make up.  Less is more!  And, it saves time and money.

            Cologne and haircuts are something for both men and women to consider.  If you’re giving colleagues and clients headaches with the aroma you bring into a room, you need to use less.  As for haircuts, a professional haircut sets you apart in a positive way.  One name, Donald Trump.  Enough said.

            Another aspect of professionalism is administrative details.  You can’t say this doesn’t affect you, because paperwork is part of every job.  First, you need to read your own contracts, reports, etc.  Know them, be able to edit them, and be able to explain the information.

            Second, keep up with paperwork daily.  Whether it’s an expense report, emails, or reports, and whether the communication is up, down, or out of the office, stay on top of it.  You don’t want to find a report you failed to process weeks after the fact.

            Third, know at least the basics of how your company wants you to write.  Does the company culture require short, low level language, grammatically correct, useful information, that’s extremely thorough, or a more casual stream of consciousness writing that more resembles expository writing?  Part of professionalism is fitting into your corporate culture.

Professionalism isn’t always the exact same for everyone.  At some companies, casual Fridays occur daily, while at other companies there’s no such thing.  But basic points of professionalism include attitude, language, appearance, and administrative details. The more you know, the better you come across.

 Lindy is a Speaker, Consultant, and Business Author, currently living in Atlanta, GA, and available to answer your questions anywhere in the world.  She is The Business Coach to companies with 50 – 100 employees, Entrepreneurs, and Start-ups.  Focusing on Communication, Leadership, and Corporate Culture, you can be more successful with Lindy as your in-house Consultant.