21 Apr 2013, 14:45


What does it mean to act professionally in the modern work place? A lot of the frustrations I have had with my work colleagues over the years boils down to this question. Mostly, it’s just about being a decent person.

What follows is what I’d say to younger version of me, or anyone I had the opportunity to mentor:

  • Keep your word
    If you’ve said you’ll do something, then make sure you make every effort to make it happen. If after that, you still aren’t able to deliver - that’s OK, let the person know and offer some kind of compensation or compromise if you can. Depending on the circumstance, they may not take the news well - be prepared for that, and ready to take it on the chin graciously. Whatever you do, DO NOT try to wriggle out of your commitment to that other person without some kind of direct communication with them: no lame excuses, ‘oh, I forgot’ etc. Even if they never mention it again, it’s unlikely they forgot about it and quite likely have you flagged as being an unreliable and/or dishonest person.

  • Speak positively / constructively
    As the old saying goes: ‘if you’ve got nothing good to say, don’t say anything at all’. Take every opportunity to encourage others and speak positively about what’s happening. There will never be a time when everything is bad, so focus on the positives. If there is something that is really bugging you and you need to offload, then find someone you trust and respect and tell them discreetly but don’t air your dirty laundry for all to see. It’s damaging to morale, and may end up getting you branded as an ungrateful whinger. There will be times when you can’t avoid discussing a topic that you feel very negatively about. In those moments, draw a deep breath, say how feel as calmly and objectively as possible, and follow-up with a suggestion for improvement.

  • Ask for help
    Don’t be someone who’s either too afraid to speak up or too proud to ask someone else for help. People who never ask questions, are people who have stopped growing. There will always be someone who knows more than you on a particular topic - make use of them, harvest their knowledge! Don’t be afraid that you’ll look incompetent. Providing that you’re not asking the same question over and over, nobody will resent you for it and most are happy to help and will respect your honesty. Asking questions also makes you more ‘real’ and approachable - you may find people being more open with you about other things, which in turn could create unexpected opportunities.

  • Courtesy and Respect
    What do these two things have to do with professionalism - everything!

  • look people in the eye and shake their hand warmly

  • thank them for their time (and anything else they’ve given you)

  • don’t interrupt, or jump straight in at the slightest pause. Listen to what they have to say and respond to it in a way that indicates that you’ve heard and understood.

  • if someone interrupts you while you’re in the middle of doing something, don’t ignore them or snap at them. Look at them, say something like: ‘I’m sorry, I can’t speak to you just now. Can I come and see you when I’m finished?’

  • Respect yourself. Don’t be a pushover: set boundaries and tell people firmly and directly when those lines have been crossed. Providing you communicate calmly and objectively, people will usually respond well and back off.

  • Treat everyone with a basic level of respect and courtesy - even people you can’t stand. You never know when you may need their help, and you also never know who else is watching. People notice when you’re rude to others. What goes around, comes around.