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Improving Professionalism in the Workplace

Improving Professionalism in the Workplace

Professionalism in the workplace is a moving target. If you’re a high performer in your field, you probably don’t know where your talent comes from. You could list the great teachers and advisors and mentors you had along the way, but all they taught you were the skills. Your talent? That’s innate. It comes from someplace inside yourself. A special gift you have that enables you to zig when others zag and often come out a winner. 

If you’ve thought about it at all, you probably have a theory about it. You believe because you do A, then B happens—even if there’s no logical reason or proof that A and B are connected. But because you’re at the top of your game, you’re afraid tinkering with any part of who you are, and what you do will damage or diminish your “special gift.” 

There’s nothing wrong with being a high performer. Companies actively recruit the best people in each division looking for those shining leaders. But just about every company has at least one Top Performer who’s also a Pain in the Butt. These are the top executives who wreak havoc with their team and the organization because they are afraid altering that behavior might impact their performance. Being great at what you do doesn’t make you a great professional.

There is no shortage of signs like a high turnover rate in their department or maybe an occasional complaint to HR. Maybe some water cooler (or these days, Zoom) grumbling among your peers or your direct reports. If you don’t believe us, read your company evaluations on Glassdoor or Indeed or any site where employees and former employees can anonymously post comments. 

Once you investigate why someone lacks professionalism in the workplace, it will always be their relationship to pressure. And their inability to handle it outside their area of total confidence. 

Pressure Isn’t Part of the Job

Some of us feel pressure when we have to relate to other people. Some of us feel pressure when our workload exceeds our usual quota. Some of us—well, there are literally dozens of ways pressure arises. And probably even more so this past year in the face of unprecedented unexpected events.

Show us “pressure.” Was it in the recruitment ad? Did HR mention “pressure” when they were doing talent acquisition or developing recruiting strategies? They talk around it by saying things like “you can handle the job,” or “are you up for the challenges?” What they’re saying is that they believe you can handle any pressure that arises. But what is it?

We Fear the Unknown

The reason abnormal times cause us so much distress is because we have very little control over external events that are happening to us. Our anxiety level naturally goes up when faced with unknown situations. COVID-19 brought up many of the same feelings. 

A fireman’s job is to rush into situations that everyone else is running away from. They can do it because their perceived amount of control is higher. They know how fires behave. They know what different color flames mean. The situation is not unknown to them. They have “been here before.” It is that gap between what bystanders know and what professionals know that allows them to rush into what we think is danger.

The question becomes, how can we increase our own “window of tolerance?” How can we function effectively in normal times and challenging times?

Anxiety Affects Both Our Minds and Our Bodies

That’s why Mastery Under Pressure addresses both our minds and our bodies. 

Early last year, I was on the phone with a colleague whose thoughts were sending him into a near panic attack. He makes his living speaking and traveling. He’d been in the middle of a four-city road trip when the first pandemic lockdown was announced. His last two talks were canceled and he flew back home on a plane that was 90% empty. The combination of the uncertainty of the pandemic and the fear of losing his income was beyond his nervous system’s “window of tolerance.” He was freaking out.

I gave him a few tips that you can use when you find that your “monkey mind” has taken over.

  1. Become aware of your thoughts. You can’t change anything if you don’t know how you’re talking to yourself. Our unconscious programming runs in the background. And if you haven’t trained yourself to manage the wild nature of your mind, it will run you. 
  2. Ask yourself “Are my thoughts producing something useful?” I like to use the term, “productive thinking,” rather than positive thinking. If your thoughts are taking you into a downward spiral, take charge and shift them. Yes, this may be easier said than done, but, this next phrase may help. 
  3. “What’s in my control? What’s out of my control? This is the key to beginning to find your way out of a stressful situation. People frequently believe that being in control means controlling other people or events. This is an impossible endeavor. Being in control of our lives means being at choice as to how we think and behave.

Professionalism in the Workplace Pays Off

Being an all-around pro impacts your bottom line. When people respect and admire their peers and their bosses, they work better and with less stress. And being a place people want to work for makes it easier to recruit and keep other top performers. Then one day you’ll discover your entire organization is operating at its best. Only better!

Improve your professionalism in the workplace today!


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Tina Greenbaum
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