Many people try to be reasonably professional in the office. They tend to dress up, speak and write more formally, and try to be polite. Regardless of their success, the effort they put forth is generally seen as part of being a good colleague.
Imagine the dismay you would feel if you found out that even with all your efforts to be professional, you were failing in some key areas. Unfortunately for many workers, this is a reality. They simply don’t realize how they are embarrassing themselves. Whether these mistakes are made with coworkers, bosses, or customers, they reflect poorly on you, and may even cost your company real money.
Here are ways you may not realize you’re being unprofessional, and how to fix them:
1. You don’t follow up.
Career counselors often say that if you don’t know the answer to a question posed in an interview, say that you’ll find out and get back to them. It’s a strategy that many also use with bosses and customers. Sometimes the matter at hand is something important, like a legal wrinkle or list price. Other times, the matter is more inconsequential, like the recipe you mentioned you’d share during some small talk. Either way, when you don’t follow up, it looks bad. If you make such a promise, write it down right away, make a note of it on your to-do list, or put it on your calendar. It will give the other party confidence in your attention to detail and will tell them you think they are important.
2. You weren’t clear on your limits.
People generally want to present themselves in a positive light and demonstrate their skill. Of course closing sales deals requires you to display a certain amount of confidence that you can do the work on time and within budget; the customer wants to know that his/her money is being well spent. Still, you need to be absolutely clear on what you will and won’t do. Whether you told a coworker you would do them a favor, or told a client you could achieve a goal, don’t leave room for ambiguity. It can make the other party feel like you overpromised and underdelivered -or worse yet, intentionally lied. Don’t leave yourself or your company so vulnerable. Put yourself in a position to outperform expectations, instead of needing to apologize.
3. You’re distracted.
Sometimes it seems like technology has made the whole world permanently distracted. There is a constant influx of emails, texts, social media, and news updates. But when you’re with someone else, make sure you are really present. Don’t check your phone during a meeting, or leave your phone on the table during dinner. Even if everyone else does it, remember that you’re not trying to be like everyone else. Make eye contact with the other person, and let them know they have your full attention. It will make them feel valued, and make you seem attentive and empathetic. Make a genuine effort to build the relationship.
4. You didn’t consider the consequences fully.
There aren’t many feelings worse than when someone takes your advice, and the whole project falls apart. It makes you look like an amateur, without the requisite knowledge to understand consequences. Whether it’s with clients or coworkers, these situations damage your leverage and make them less trusting of you. When you give advice or make a recommendation, you need to make sure it’s a fully baked idea. Before you share, map it out in your head all the way to its conclusion. If you see risk, share it with the other party. It will make them feel like you have their best interests at heart, and it will prevent you from needing to eat your words later. Above all, it will help you avoid making preventable mistakes, which can be devastating to your reputation.
5. You speak in absolutes.
I’m a firm believer in avoiding absolutes in written and spoken word. Saying things like, “Everybody knows…” or “Nobody does…” opens you up to being proven wrong in the future. Worse, what if the person you’re speaking to knows firsthand that you’re incorrect? Using less exact modifiers, such as “Most people,” or “Usually,” protects the integrity of your point without making you sound stubborn or closed off to possibility. Using absolutes can kill your credibility with your audience, and hurt your company as a consequence.
6. You mislead by omission.
In business, you need to keep the promises you make. Your client needs to feel like you delivered on the deal, and they got their money’s worth. Otherwise it’s a short road to losing your reputation and your customers. Just like you need to be honest with customers about what you’re capable of and willing to do, make sure you’re up front with them about what you do and don’t know, and about what you can and can’t control. If you tell a client you are confident you can meet a deadline, even though a supplier told you they’re having problems meeting their own deadlines, you’re setting your client up for disappointment, and setting yourself up for failure. Being forthright from the beginning can prevent a lot of headaches down the road.
7. You are too casual.
It’s great to have close relationships with your clients. It likely means that you’ve been doing business together for a long time, and that both sides are happy with what you’ve produced together and looking forward to the future. Still, it’s important to remember that they’re your clients. There’s a delicate line to balance, and it’s safest to maintain at least some formality to your relationship. Avoid the extra drink at dinner that you might feel comfortable having with a colleague in your division. Be careful to keep your jokes PG-13. Watch your language. It’s far better to be safe than sorry.
8. You have excuses.
The truth is no one cares that you’re busy. If you can’t handle everything you’ve committed to, then you need to reevaluate how you’re conducting business. Apologies and excuses get tired fast, so you need to avoid using them. If you see a problem coming down the pipeline, warn your client so you can manage expectations and give them as much time as possible to plan around it. If you make a mistake, own up to it as soon as possible. Remember to use your phone as a phone -sometimes a personal phone call is a better way to explain than an impersonal email or text. As often as possible, overdeliver.