There is no doubt that modern businesses are far more relaxed in approach than businesses of yesteryear. Our parents never addressed colleagues by their first name, my father wore a suit and tie every day, written correspondence was formal, and personal service was the norm. It’s how professionalism was demonstrated.
I love the fact that I work in jeans, address my clients by their first name, and throw in some personal and friendly chatter on my whatsapp messages sent to clients. In addition, the relaxation of business formalities has done much to improve employee morale and job satisfaction. But we need to be mindful that we don’t lose that professional edge.
There is nothing quite like being treated professionally. If you want to build a legacy or leave a lasting impression on your customers, suppliers, industry peers or any other internal or external stakeholder in your business, all you have to do is focus on your professionalism.
Being professional is not just about having strong skills and competence in your chosen field. There is an expectation that you would have the experience and qualification to deliver your product or service. But this alone is not enough to earn the respect of your customers.
Professionalism is also about the qualities and behaviours you exhibit, and the manner in which you conduct yourself during your business affairs.
True professionals possess a number of important characteristics that can apply to virtually any type of business.
A professional is neat in appearance. Be sure to meet or even exceed the requirements of your company’s dress code, and pay special attention to your appearance when meeting with prospects or clients. Take your cue from the way they dress.
Your demeanour should reflect confidence but not cockiness. Be polite and well-spoken whether you’re interacting with customers, superiors or co-workers. Just because you are the expert in a field, does not earn you the right to treat your customers like ignorant idiots. On the other end of the spectrum, just because you are a warm and friendly person does not mean you can call your new customer “sweetie”.
As a professional, you will be counted on to find a way to get the job done. Responding to people promptly and following through on promises in a timely manner is also important, as this demonstrates reliability. It’s about meeting expectations, which requires effective communication skills. Never assume. Clarify everything, especially when things change, to make sure you are always on the same page as your customer, and to eliminate nasty surprises.
Professionals strive to become experts in their field, which sets them apart from the rest of the pack. This can mean continuing your education by taking courses, reading and attending seminars to stay abreast of trends.
Professionals such as doctors, lawyers and public accountants must adhere to a strict code of ethics. Even if your company or industry doesn’t have a written code, you should display ethical behaviour at all times.
Maintaining Your Poise
Professionalism is about maintaining poise even when facing a difficult situation. When you are challenged or questioned you need to be able to state your case in a calm and structured manner and keep it factual, clean and to the point. This is where people with a high Emotional Intelligence (EQ) gain the most respect. There is nothing like losing your cool or airing personal emotional baggage in a tense situation to destroy your integrity, credibility and reputation.
Your phone etiquette is also an important component of professionalism. This means identifying yourself by your full name, company and title when you place a call. Be sure not to dominate the conversation and listen intently to the other party.
During written or email correspondence, keep your letters brief and to the point. Your tone should be polite and formal without being “stuffy.” Remember that your written correspondence is a paper trail and record of your transactions with your clients, so take care of what you say and how you say it. Use your spell checker! And remember email etiquette 101 – never, ever write in capital letters in an email, no matter how frustrated you are. The only effect this has is on your character.
A professional can quickly and easily find what is needed. Your work area should be neat and organised, and your briefcase should contain only what is needed for your appointment or presentation.
Professionals are accountable for their actions at all times. If you make a mistake, own up to it and fix it. Don’t try to place the blame on a colleague. If your company made the mistake, take responsibility and work to resolve the issue. Sometimes a compromise is necessary, you take it on the chin, learn from it and move on. Use an unfortunate opportunity to gain more respect from the way you handle a mistake or an oversight than if you had not made the mistake at all!
Your customers are not your mates. They are not your siblings. Nor your punch bags. These are the very people that provide the income to your business, which pays your salary, which puts food on your table. It’s time to bring respect and professionalism back into the business equation, no matter how small or large you are.