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Basic Guidelines

The guidelines in this chapter apply to all employees, not just newcomers. Many veteran workers also need to be reminded occasionally of these basic principles of business professionalism.

  1. Be careful with your appearance. Here are a few general guidelines for the most effective business appearance:

    • Dress appropriately. You want to be noticed, but you don’t want to stand out. And there are different rules for different situations and work styles. Again, your own organization’s style will dictate what is “appropriate.”

    • Dress for the position you want, not the position you have. Others tend to believe that you are what you appear to be. So when it comes time for promotions, management usually looks first to the people who need the least amount of grooming for the new position.

    • Dress conservatively. For most businesses and most business occasions, conservative is best. You will have more credibility in a jacket than without, more credibility in long sleeves than in short, more credibility in conservative colors than in flashy.

  2. Expand your knowledge. According to a 1988 study by the U.S. Department of Labor and the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), knowing how to learn is the skill most needed by employees. Learn as much as you can about your job and your manager’s job, and how each fits into the organizational structure. Find out what other departments do. Read the trade publication of your industry and profession. Be the one who people turn to for expertise in your area.

  3. Honor your working hours. Working nine to five doesn’t mean that you arrive at nine and leave at five. It means you work from nine to five. Socializing at the coffeepot or eating breakfast at your desk does not constitute working. Five minutes may not seem like much to you, but it may seem like stealing to your manager or CEO, especially in a small or very busy office. Spending 10 minutes on a personal phone call is only a small part of an eight-hour day, but 10 minutes a day equals 50 minutes a week—almost an hour of unproductive time.

    If you start getting ready to leave at 4:45, charge out of the office at 4:59, and go screeching out of the parking lot, you’ll give the impression that you can’t wait to leave—not a very professional attitude. If you cut short a telephone conversation with a customer because it’s quitting time, you may lose business.

    If you arrive at a meeting late, your actions say, “My time is more valuable than yours; you aren’t important to me.” Those few extra minutes may make a big difference in the way you’re considered for promotions or raises. Be honest. How many hours do you really work?

  4. Be friendly. When you’re new, you need people to help you with your new duties, explain procedures, and show you where to get information or material you’ll need. Make an extra effort to get along with everyone, but don’t try too hard. Ask your new coworkers to have lunch with you; lunch is a great opportunity to get to know each other. Remember that offices work best when individual effort supports the team effort.

  5. Keep personal information to yourself. Friendliness aside, don’t let your life become the office soap opera. When someone asks, “How are you?” don’t spill your guts. Some of that information could be used against you later. If you can’t control your mood or your mouth, be quiet. The same advice goes, of course, for sticking your nose into others’ personal business. Don’t. Never discuss or question salary or any other confidential or personal information with coworkers.

  6. Be positive and supportive. When your day isn’t going the way you hoped it would, try to look at the positive side of things— and people. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can turn a bad day into a good one. Believe in your coworkers and back them up in public. When your manager makes a decision, give your wholehearted support to it, at least in front of others. Make others look good at every opportunity. Managers, especially, need you to look, talk, write, and act like a positive, supportive representative. Your professionalism reflects on both your manager and your organization.

  7. Keep an open mind. Make informed judgments, avoid jumping to conclusions, evaluate what you see in addition to what you hear, and don’t be a party to gossip. Establishing yourself as a professional means that you show respect for others.

  8. Follow through. We all get a little tired, especially by late afternoon, but the job you tackle at 5:00 P.M. means as much as the one you start at 8:00 A.M. Cover every angle of a project, and don’t wait to be reminded that you need to finish a project. Be accurate. Check and double-check to make sure things are going smoothly and the way you planned. Be realistic about how long an assignment will take, and let others know ahead of time if you anticipate a delay. Set deadlines and meet them.

  9. Communicate. According to the ASTD study mentioned earlier, only job knowledge ranks above communication skills as a factor for workplace success. Keep people informed in a succinct and useful way. Everyone wants to know what’s going on—not every little detail of every day, but what is happening on major projects. Your coworkers want to know about the status of assignments. They want to know immediately about any problems or mistakes. Most of all, if a conflict arises or if someone makes a mistake, remember that everyone is human.

    Managers want you, however, to go through the normal channels of communication. Don’t go over their heads, and don’t bring things to them that don’t concern them. If you want to disagree with them, do it tactfully, with a positive alternative, and during a high point in the day.

  10. Listen. Speaking and listening are twin skills in communication. Both sides must play a part for communication to occur, and you can learn best by listening to what others know. Ask questions. Hear how other people organize their ideas, how they bring up a new plan, how they respond to changes in procedures. For more on listening, see Section 6.

  11. Solve your own problems. When you do have to present a problem, bring possible solutions, too. Don’t complain about things that can’t be changed, and don’t blame others when you make a mistake. Accept responsibility when you’ve made a mistake, and work harder to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Learn to accept criticism gracefully without defensiveness.

  12. Work hard. Be ready and willing. Take on new responsibilities, and do more than others expect. Don’t be content to do only what’s expected of you or use the excuse that “It’s not my job.” Look for areas in which you can do more and make yourself more valuable. Volunteer for special projects. Those who wait to be told what to do continue to be told what to do, and their value seldom increases.

  13. Be assertive, but not aggressive. What’s the difference? Assertiveness is appropriate behavior for the situation at hand. It’s standing up for your rights without infringing on the rights of other people. Aggressiveness is strong, overpowering, often abusive behavior. It’s rude, crude, and abrasive.

  14. Don’t be in too big a hurry to advance. Learn as much as you can in the job you have now. Think ahead. Plan. It’s like growing up: no matter how eager you are, it takes a certain amount of time. Try to enjoy what you have while it’s yours.

  15. Leave gracefully. If you don’t have the job very long, keep your disappointment—or your extreme happiness—to yourself. Just be cordial and say your good-byes quietly. Never bad-mouth the people who have put money in your pocket.

    If someone else is leaving, respect that person’s privacy as much as your own. Even if they have resigned, and you can’t understand why, respect their opinion. They’re still the same people—they just chose not to work there any longer.



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