Wednesday, August 05, 2009
Is it the suit?
Not really. I know it looks professional to wear a suit, but professionalism 101 is all about simple skills and the appropriate attitude. The clothes are tools that enhance skills and attitude. When you think of professionalism as skills and clothing as tools, it's easier to pick the right tool for the circumstance. Now we can shed the rebel excuses. Plumbers use tools, writers use tools, professionals use tools.
The ironic part of attitude is that it is also a learned trait. You can train yourself to have the right attitude, no one is born professional or appropriate. Go to a preschool and watch the two and three year old class. No one is born professional. It IS a learned skill.
A professional attitude is composed, courteous, attentive and self-assured. Being professional and feeling professional are two different things. Our confidence almost never comes first in learned behaviors. Confidence follows a pattern of training. Sure our emotions can be felt, but that's not what I'm sharing here. In this place, right now, we're talking about the sensing of your comfort zone experience and not allowing our emotions to rule our nerves. This takes self-talk and practice.
You'll feel fear, the desire to take flight, and self-doubt such as a new recruit in boot camp. Yet those recruits drill over and over until the new set of skills become second nature. Do you think they feel happy, warm and confident in the first few weeks of the military? Most arrive completely unaware of what is to come and yet they graduate as capable, skilled men and women who will protect their country.
How do you learn to be professional in an arena you've never or rarely entered?
Be Prepared--Know who you will talk with and know your subject. For instance, if you wrote a book then have a 15 second synopsis rehearsed. Bring your contact information with you. Look up the interviewer and be familiar with who they are and what they do. Arrive early so you can compose yourself for a moment.
Dress the part for credibility--If you would like to go on a public appearance for your book or to speak, how would you dress? Publishers and agents want to know they can trust you with their customers. In most cases, dress at least one step above what your attendees would wear. If they wear jeans, you wear slacks. If they wear slacks, you wear a dress or suit (tie optional.) It's like wearing a uniform to point out who is on duty. The caveat? You'll feel more confident. Watch for this skill over the next few weeks in other people. Note what happens when it is ignored. Loss of credibility is a huge life lesson.
Learn how to speak with a confident tone of voice--Hiding behind an overly quiet or boisterous voice irritates the listener. Offer gracious courtesy by gifting the other party with a strong, clear tone. When a person is too soft, it's easy to misunderstand. The other party is forced to work harder and may tune you out. When overly loud, it can be painful and embarrassing for the receiving listener. Balance and courtesy are an impressive combination.
Be an attentive listener-- Pay attention to the information you are receiving and follow up on time. Be aware and request clarity when you are confused. One of the most common mistakes is the lack of questions. People are too afraid of being considered foolish that they can actually place themselves in a more ridiculous situation without the directions to carry out a task correctly.
Be composed-- This can be the most difficult and is often what people mean when they ask about confidence. Saying something embarrassing that could be immortalized forever seems to be a great fear. Gaining composure is merely a skill based on encountering challenge. Singers, speakers, actors have practiced this skill so often that it becomes a persona they put on just like clothes. For some reason, people fear being the Emperor Who Wore No Clothes as if they might later discover how naked they were. Composure is behaving with calm.
A quick story: I recently competed for an international title. During the fitness competition, I could not see the steps. I missed it, to the collective gasp of the audience. My arms swung wide and landed on the next level as if I'd tried to fly there. Having practiced composure in public situations, I remained calm, beamed out a giant smile and popped into a new pose. I received huge applause, not for the fall, but for the recovery. You see, I'd tripped in public before. Instead of staring into the spotlight horrified, I'd learned to minimize the mistake by maximizing the recovery. Smile, breathe, regroup and move on with grace. The professionalism comes into play on how you handle the unexpected as well as the expected eye contact and hand shake. Think like an actor, "The show must go on."
Enthusiasm--No, you don't have to do flips or cartwheels. Being enthusiastic means you are wholehearted, warm and deeply interested in the subject. Some people do have a natural tendency to be positive. That's not the same thing. If you are passionate about your topic, let that passion come through in the tone of your voice and the sparkle in your eyes. Enthusiasm is more the passion in your heart reaching out to warm the interest of another.
Use social niceties--Thank you, your welcome, please, may I? are all still in style. Remember to utilize them gracefully even when faced with rejection. You never know when your gracious attitude might bring back an old opportunity or past acquaintance. It's also impossible to know who all knows who in this networked world. Recognize and respond as if you will meet again.
When in doubt, ask yourself this: How can I portray gracious courtesy?
Practice constant courtesy even in negative situations and you will reap the reward of a professional demeanor worn as if you were born with it.
Mrs. Montana International 2009
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Purposeful Living Coach.
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