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A Costly Gesture: Extend Workplace Professionalism Well Beyond the Workplace

Categories: Workplace Etiquette

Are courtesy and professionalism just facades that you show in the office, or a true reflection of the authentic you? Let me share a true story …

An embarrassed coaching client, a top sales representative at her firm, once told me that she’d learned an important lesson about professionalism the hard way.

She was running late for a lunch meeting with a potential new account -- someone she’d carefully wooed via phone and e-mail. The account, if she landed it, would be the most lucrative one she’d ever had … and it would put her in line for a much-coveted promotion.

The restaurant my client had picked was in one of Chicago’s busiest, trendiest neighborhoods. She circled the block four times, looking for parking. The time grew later and her temper grew shorter. The only parking lot within a few blocks of the restaurant was full. Various four-letter words began running through her mind.

Finally, she spotted someone pulling out of a spot at the end of the block. She hit the gas and sped toward it, cutting off another driver who was also getting ready to park. My client felt victorious, having claimed the spot with only minutes to spare. The driver she’d cut off honked in irritation.

What did this harried sales rep do? She responded with a particular gesture. You know the one … it involves a certain finger.

I’m sure you can imagine my client’s horror when five minutes later, it turned out that the person she’d given the middle finger to was the very person she was supposed to meet!

You won’t be surprised to hear that she didn’t land that account. Even worse, she had to explain her failure to her very unsympathetic manager. Although she learned her lesson, that coveted promotion took many more years to achieve.

What about you? Does your professionalism and courtesy extend to all areas of your life, or do you drop it at the elevator when you leave the office? Be honest. Could this have been you?

Make courtesy and etiquette a lifestyle choice, not a workplace rule. Here are two tips to remember (which my client could have benefitted from in retrospect):

  • Never lose your cool over a parking space (or any other perceived affront that life or work throws your way). Always treat others around you with respect.
  • Always leave early to ensure that you will be punctual for any meetings (or interviews, client lunches, conferences, etc.). Take into account any bad traffic, potential parking issues, and weather. Always better early than late. If you’re early, do a last-minute mirror check in the bathroom to ensure your appearance is spot-on. Being on time is another sign of respect to those you are meeting – that you value their time.

In the craziness of our busy lives, we often forget these basic respect reminders that bear repeating.

How about you? Practice the art of business storytelling: Share your workplace story and lessons learned. We’ll include them – anonymously -- in future blogs.

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