In every workplace, whether you work in a big company, or you work for yourself, there comes a point where professionalism is challenged. Someone angers you, or just rubs you the wrong way, and you have to take a breath to take the “high road.” With respect to professionalism, I’ve had two defining experiences in my career – an example I aspire to, and an example of caution.
An Example of Caution
Very recently I was given a survey for an online program I had registered for. The survey was sent about six weeks into the use of the program; at that point, I did not feel like the program was serving me or my business well at all. I made the mistake of being honest on the survey.
The owner of the business reached out to me regarding my survey response. The owner was defensive, but also asking for clarification. I responded that I may have been a bit too harsh on the survey, but there were still a number of issues I had with my perception of what the program was supposed to be compared to what the program was actually doing. The owner replied that there wasn’t enough time to make those determinations…. yet, the owner sent the survey out only six weeks after the launch of the program? I stayed with the program to give it fair enough time to function for my business.
Well, fast forward another month or so – I started a conversation in a Facebook group in response to a number of questions many newbies had about something I knew well. The same owner of this program responded to my comment with questions that were malign and indignant, clearly trying to twist my commentary to make me seem like a fool. When I tried to privately message this person, the owner suggested I use the company website to send an email because the owner “could not receive Facebook messages.” I could see this person was not yet over my survey response. I decided it would be best to keep my personal Facebook account personal and I blocked this person.
I received an email tonight from the owner stating that the owner had cancelled my membership to the program and that I received a refund (which I did not) as a result of me blocking the owner.
Even though I continued to pay for the service, the owner could not separate personal discrepancies between us from professional business. This is an example of a lack of professionalism. It is imperative to note the difference.
In the professional world, do not send out a survey unless you expect honest responses. Do not take the responses personally, instead, use them to build a better business – that’s the point, isn’t it? In the professional world, do not use Facebook as a public forum to denigrate or demean someone who is your customer.
An example I aspire to
About six years ago, when I first started the position as a coordinator at the school where I taught, I organized my first trip for students and I made a huge mistake in the execution of the trip (everyone was safe, it was a technical error, but a big one).
The principal at the time called me into his office and asked me what happened. He allowed me time to explain, and then he calmly explained what I did wrong. He explained how I needed to correct it, sat with me as I corrected it to ensure I was doing it right, and then explained how to avoid the same mistake in the future. After that moment, it was forgotten.
He guided me, he mentored me – He did not excuse my mistake, nor did he chastise me. He taught me. I never made the mistake again because I learned, and because I gained an unwavering respect for him that made me want to do my absolute best at all times.
Professionalism is Leadership
Professionalism is the same as being a strong leader. A strong leader supports and advises, understands that he/she is working with people who make mistakes. Professionalism is the ability to continue to work with others despite differences in opinion.
I’m sorry to feel this way, especially as an entrepreneur, but I sometimes feel that the entrepreneurial world lacks the professionalism the regular working world embodies. There is a grave gap in understanding that to become anything, you will need others; it is impossible to become a success on your own.
That doesn’t mean every entrepreneur is unprofessional – hardly the case – but it is a lesson which needs to be driven a bit harder in that universe. With professionalism and leadership comes understanding and teamwork, and the ability to discern between the world of personal and business.
How to be Professional
It takes a bit of courage and a whole lot of discretion to be professional. You have to know when to pick and choose your battles, and you really only want to bring it to a battle to avoid a war.
Pettiness and child-like retribution is an absolute no-no. You have to kick your feelings to the curb and do what’s best for business. Sometimes that’s speaking up, but most of the time, that’s staying quiet.
You have to know that if you open up the door for opinions, there are going to be dissenting ones. But you cannot be offended by your dissenters, and you certainly should never dismiss them. If anything, your dissenters will make you stronger. Your dissenters are the open doors of opportunity for growth.
Professionalism is admitting when you’re wrong, apologizing, and moving forward. Simultaneously, professionalism is allowing others to make mistakes, showing them how to grow from it, and then moving on.
When in doubt about how to respond to a caustic email or contrived comment, just stop. Draft a response if it will make you feel better, or just hold your tongue. In either circumstance, you must take the moment to ask yourself – “Am I making myself or my business better by responding?”
Professionalism is Not a Choice
Finally, professionalism is not a choice – of course, one has the choice to behave in a professional manner or not, but if one chooses the latter, there will not be success. Once one has crossed the line of professionalism, there is no going back.
It’s the Golden Rule: Do onto others as you would have done onto you. This defines professionalism.