Professionalism is a necessity in almost every job. Even TV personalities are not immune to lapses in professionalism, as displayed by Jeremy Clarkson’s departure from BBC. But while not hitting your coworker is probably a no brainer, other aspects of professionalism are slightly less clear. And to add to the murkiness, it’s a skill not commonly taught in schools.
How do you learn something that employers and other adults expect you to know before you set foot in the office? While scary at first, professionalism is far less daunting than the word would lead you to believe. An important thing to know about professionalism is that its far from an exact science. There isn’t a cookie cutter formula you can follow every time you want to interact with someone in a professional fashion. However, there are a few guidelines applicable to almost every professional relationship in the workplace.
Perhaps the most important part of a professional relationship is the first impression. The expression “got off on the wrong foot” applies more than ever in a professional setting. Aside from being punctual when appropriate, you don’t want to come off as abrasive and demanding. While confidence is highly sought, too much confidence may convey an arrogance that discourages future interaction. On the opposite side of the spectrum, although humbleness is widely touted as a desirable trait, selling yourself short is perhaps just as worse as coming off as arrogant. Maintaining healthy professional relationships is key to attracting the attention of the higher-ups, but all the professional relationships in the world are useless without credentials and reputation to back them up. So the tip here is be confident, but not too confident. While this advice may be unnecessarily vague, finding a level of confidence that makes people want to talk to you comes from experience.
Leadership is a college application buzzword, but in the professional world, it’s a trait that is essential to setting yourself apart in the workplace. Taking initiative is something not really emphasized in school, but your ability to take initiative in the workplace is essential to all of your future endeavors. By showing that you are capable of taking on increased responsibility helps you build a reputation that opens doors. In addition, others will actively seek you out to help them solve problems, allowing you to foster relationships with many of your colleagues.
Personality is a huge deal in the workplace. Maintaining a positive and joyful attitude, even when you are feeling less than stellar, works wonders when you want to build relationships with the people who work alongside you. I saw Inside Out a month ago, and while Amy Poehler’s performance as Joy blew me away, Phyllis Smith’s performance as Sadness was spot on. Her pessimistic attitude was incredibly humorous, but in the workplace, the lack of drive and just downright depressing attitude will cause very few to want to talk to you, except when absolutely necessary. And yet, just like the “right amount” of confidence, there is a limit to how positive you should be. To positive and you might just come off as sarcastic.
As stated before, professionalism is far from a rigid set of rules. But like most claims, there are a few exceptions. Your school or company’s dress code should always be adhered to. If there isn’t an exact dress code, it’s always better to overdress and err on the side of the conservative. Don’t engage in gossip, no matter how interesting. The goal is to establish a reputation for being professional, not a reputation for being a rumor mill.
Professionalism isn’t just for the workplace. It’s a quality that can and will help you in all walks of life. From school to just interacting with others in general, professional conduct will make others respect you. And while hackneyed, the phrase “treat others how you want to be treated” applies more than ever. Professionalism is hard to come by in an age where people stare at computers more than other people. By acting professionally, you can be a role model for change.