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A professional is someone who gets paid for services rendered. To be seen as professionals, we must communicate that expertise in any situation—not just when we are in our offices. How can we communicate professionalism?
First, be time-conscious. Whatever you are in charge of, start on time. You know how you feel when a physician is late for an appointment after you rushed to be on time. Others feel the same about you if you are not on time. Be on time for appointments. If you are delivering a speech, know how much time you have to speak and stop a minute or two before the allotted time is up. If you are in a conference, tell the group at the beginning how much time the meeting will take and stick with that time limit. Don’t be known in the community as someone who does not have a sense of time. If you do miss a time limit, apologize and move on.
Second, be positive in communication. Positive communication tends to give others the impression that you like yourself, others, and your profession. You will be more persuasive in communication when you are positive and upbeat. When someone asks how you are doing, respond with a superlative such as “great,” “fantastic,” “marvelous,” or “super.” People don’t want to hear about your bad day or be exposed to your grouchiness. Pick a superlative and use it all the time. Practice positive wording when responding to people. For example, if someone calls you and asks you to chair a committee, if you are willing to do it, respond with “I’ll be glad to do it!” Don’t say, “Well, I might be able to …” or, “I guess I can.”
Reframe messages by changing a negative message to a positive one. Instead of saying, “What’s wrong with you?” say “What’s troubling you?” Avoid talking about “problems” and instead refer to your “challenges.” I am still trying to convince my students that an exam is really a “golden opportunity.”
Third, be a good listener. Always listen more than you talk. Get the other person to talk first. When you listen you are showing your concern for the other person. This makes the other person look at you with respect because you show that you really care. Learn to ask open questions. Good beginning phrases for questions are, “What do you think?” or “How do you feel about…?” or “In your opinion, what should …?” If the person talking to you is emotional, give an empathic response. Show that you are trying to put yourself in that person’s situation with, “That must be tough,” or “I see that is really important to you,” or “I can only imagine how you feel.” Often this type of response will keep the other person talking and you will have more information with which to make an intelligent and cogent comment.
Fourth, be grammatically correct. People judge you by how you speak. Poor use of grammar will affect your credibility in a negative way and you will not appear to the other person to be professional. Typical grammatical errors include incorrect subject-verb agreement, misuse of personal pronouns I and me, and using an unnecessary helping verb with a simple past tense irregular verb, such as had went. Purchase a book or go to a website about grammar. There are a variety of short books available on common grammatical errors and an abundance of websites with grammar tips and explanations. Ask someone who is a good grammarian to give you feedback on your use of grammar when you deliver a speech, moderate a meeting, or make a phone call.
Fifth, be sure to pronounce words correctly. Closely related to grammar is correct pronunciation—simply knowing how to put together sounds that make up a word. Common mispronunciations include “pitcher” for “picture,” “agin” for “again,” and “jest” for “just.” Also be certain to pronounce names and places correctly. Mispronouncing a client’s name is a sure mark of unprofessionalism.
Sixth, be nice. Treating other people with respect goes a long way in demonstrating professionalism. Show appreciation when people do things for you. Smile a lot. Have a pleasant-sounding voice. Look at the person when he or she is talking to you. Don’t be doing other things when people talk to you. Avoid gossip; don’t say bad things about other people. Go out of your way to show your concern for others. On a couple of occasions I have had a physician check on my condition a day or two after my office visit. That kind of caring professionalism makes a lasting positive impression.
Finally, be unique. There are a variety of rules and tips on how to communicate better, but sometimes the best way to show your professionalism is simply to be yourself. Don’t try to copy another person’s method of communicating. Some people talk fast, and others talk slowly. You come from a background and environment that is different from anyone else’s. Use that uniqueness in your conversation. Share stories from your life that help illustrate a point you are making. Relate materials from books or articles you have read. Don’t be afraid to give your own perspective on topics. You see things differently; share your views and integrate your feelings into the subject matter discussed. Your uniqueness will help you stand out from the crowd and contribute to your professional image.
You will notice that all of these points begin with the letter “b.” You might call these communication tips the “bees of professionalism.” If you have ever been stung by a bee, you know it leaves a mark. I hope these “b’s” will leave on you marks of professionalism.
©2012 Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP
About the Author
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Emeritus Professor of speech communication at Northern Kentucky University in Highland Heights, Kentucky. He works with organizations that want to speak and listen more effectively to increase personal and professional performance. He can be reached at 800-727-6520 or at firstname.lastname@example.org .