Etiquette Is Professionalism at Its Best!

Kathleen Powell

Kathleen Powell, Assistant Vice President, Student Affairs, Executive Director of Career Development, Cohen Career Center, William & Mary
President-Elect, National Association of Colleges and Employers
Twitter: @powellka
LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/kathleenipowell/

Remember when you witnessed students, colleagues, and co-workers on their phones and perhaps thought, “Why are they checking Facebook or texting?” Well, the fact of the matter is, they could have been checking the time, tweeting something you said that was profound or thought provoking, or uploading a PowerPoint deck slide to LinkedIn or Twitter. With technology comes a new world to navigate and etiquette requires a new way of thinking and working with others.

How did we ever get along without e-mail, texting, chats, and messaging? Do you find yourself inundated with e-mails and voice messages? Last year at the 2015 NACE conference, Lindsey Pollak shared that XX Company did away with voice mails and others would be following suit. For those who are aligned with companies/organizations where voice mail is a thing of the past, it is one less distraction. However, there are still organizations, mine included, that have voice mail. So, what is the protocol for replies?

Must we answer every e-mail that comes to our inbox, must we return every call? It seems if those seeking our attention don’t get our consideration via voice mail, they share on their message they’ve sent us an e-mail, just in case we need or want more information and want to respond through e-mail versus a return call.

The question still stands, “do we need to reply to every e-mail and voice mail?” Professional courtesy and etiquette dictates that we do! Between you and me, I try to respond to every ping, but some days I’m outmatched by my inbox! That said, I find great joy in unsolicited mass e-mails where I can choose to reply if the message is of interest, or use the ever so efficient, delete key.

The best way to handle unsolicited, mass e-mails is to find the link to unsubscribe. Sometimes I wonder how I got on some e-mail distribution lists in the first place! Please don’t be annoyed, rude, or indifferent. Either unsubscribe, ask to be removed from the list, or delete. Don’t unsubscribe by hitting “reply all.” Reply if you’re interested, but otherwise, unsolicited, mass e-mails from those unknown to you don’t mandate a response.

I’m going to switch gears to an arena that doesn’t get much attention. Deadlines, meetings, and the way we speak and treat our co-workers! I’m a strong believer in professional courtesy—etiquette. You know you are expecting a report, data set, something that is required for you to move. If you’ve promise to deliver on a deadline, respect that deadline. If you find yourself up to your eye balls in alligators, step up and ask if there is space and place for an extension as courteously and professionally as humanly possible. Being human is hard, but I’ve found we may be hard on the outside, but soft in the middle. We all want a win and success is achieved when we work together to solve for the greater good. Meeting deadlines and fulfilling promised obligations goes a long way.

Meetings! Do you find your work world is a series of meetings? You move from one to another, and let’s not forget about conference calls! If you give your word and commit to a meeting or conference call, keep that commitment. Good etiquette—professionalism—aligns with dependable and punctual. In this day and age, many of us are oversubscribed, double-booked, and rarely have time to come up for air. It’s not a contest to see who is busier, has more meetings, or who is more important. If possible, control your time and commitments. Remember, others may be counting on you and you can’t be all in if you’re physically in one place, but mentally in another.

I mentioned conference calls. Don’t be the person who puts their phone on mute and is never heard from again! Or the person who is typing, and yes, talking on their cell phone thinking they are on mute when in fact, we’ve all just heard what you think about the call itself! Research tells us we can’t multi-task. We think we can, but are brains are not wired that way. Your multi-pronged attention will be at the expense of something!

Have you had a colleague, co-worker, or supervisor who uses words as weapons? Don’t be that individual. Speak to others as you would expect others to speak to you. Being human is hard and emotions can and sometimes do run deep. Once words are out, they can’t be taken back. Come to a place where facts, and maybe figures, drive a debate, heated conversation. Perhaps, “I believe” is heard over “I feel.” Feelings can be hurt, words can hurt, but beliefs change, opinions can expand and retract. For some, apologizing is a sign of weakness, for others it is a “tool” to move on to the next item of business; no harm, no foul. We’ve all heard the saying, “people may not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.” I may not always get it right, but in my humble opinion, the sign of professionalism is acknowledging our own shortcomings, accepting responsibility when things don’t go well that were in our control, and the courage and steadfastness to make amends.

In essence, professionalism—etiquette—is how you engage and treat others. Those who exemplify strong etiquette treat everyone as valuable, contributing members to their organization, treat everyone’s time as valuable as theirs, are tolerant of being human, and are considerate and kind when it comes to people’s feelings.

For me, at the end of the day, acting with professional etiquette, integrity, means bringing my best self to the table.

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