Category: Life Lessons

Professionalism

Merriam-Webster defines professionalism as ‘the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well’. It goes on with a further definition of ‘the conduct, aims, or qualities that characterize or mark a profession or a professional person’.

I guess that my own confusion in terms of being seen as a professional is that unfortunately (or maybe fortunately?), such expectations as defined in this context are not actually down to the person who wishes to be seen as professional.

I have been called unprofessional a few times in the past. Usually when I have disagreed with someone about something. Strange, that.

A comment once made to me did actually cause me to reflect slightly on *how* I disagree with people:

‘You always argue your point strongly, even when you’re wrong.’

Did the person who said this to me have a point? Possibly. I was raised to speak my mind, and engage in debate. While I acknowledge that I can be *very* stubborn, I can be argued around to a different way of thinking – because when all is said and done, I wouldn’t be arguing any point if I thought it was actually wrong. I have no patience to play devils advocate. That said, some people see any kind of headlong disagreement as an intimidating confrontation. I honestly still have no idea how to deal with that. Should I sugar coat my thoughts? Tip toe around an issue? I don’t know.

This does bring me to the point of this post, though. Which is more professional – giving (and occasionally arguing) an opinion in a professional capacity, or keeping your mouth shut for the sake of not disagreeing with someone higher up the food chain?

I guess the answer to that depends on who’s answering the question. I know where I stand on it.

So, for me, I guess showing professionalism comes down to the following:

  • Don’t be afraid to speak up. *
  • Share your knowledge.
  • Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
  • Always do what you say you will do, when you say you will do it.
  • Don’t play the blame game.
  • Get on with the job.

I freely acknowledge here that my list may seem incomplete to some. I’ll quite happily argue/debate the points and amend said list if I can be talked around. I’m not right about everything. On the flip side – I don’t think I’m often wrong, either.

* Though try and be tactful about it. My brain to mouth filter is malfunctional. Announcing to an entire room that something is stupid does not win you friends. Trust me on this.

The most aggravating compliment

Sorry folks. This is a dreaded women in STEM post. It’s sad that #ILookLikeAnEngineer is a thing. People still do not get it.

So, a true story.

A long time ago, in a job in my past, there was a week of BIG MEETINGS. It was a huge deal, with very important clients who we *had* to impress. The culture of the office was lax, and the usual code was ‘get in for some time, do all your work, and wear what you want’. For this week, we were asked to be in well on time for the BIG MEETINGS, come in suited and booted, and above all, behave.

So, I spent a week turning up to the office, wearing a nice skirt, blouse, and killer heels. Literally, killer. When the clients had gone for the day, I’d kick off said heels and start sticking plasters on all the bleeding bits, longing for my comfy trainers or boots. I kept my mouth shut, and smiled when spoken to. I didn’t really achieve much of my own programming work that week, in-spite of only having to attend a couple of the meetings, as the entire team was on tenterhooks with how said BIG MEETINGS were going. Things were going on that made it too difficult to concentrate.

I received three compliments that week. Take a guess which one infuriated me.

  1. Please don’t take this as harassment or anything, but you look stunning like that. I wish we could see it every day!
  2. I won’t sit next to you in meetings when you wear a skirt any more, as your legs are too distracting.
  3. I’ve been really impressed with your professionalism this week. Great work!

If you haven’t already guessed that the third compliment was the one that annoyed me, you still don’t get IT. So, I’ll explain further.

The week where I can honestly say that all I did was turn up, look pretty, and not share my professional opinion, is the one where I got complimented on being ‘professional’. This sent the message that I am only valued as a professional when I’m making an effort to look nice and keep my mouth shut. So for what reason had I been turning up and busting my arse all those years before?

I didn’t say anything, of course. I really do, even now, still get that the compliment was meant as just that – a compliment. It wouldn’t be right to give the complimenter a hard time over it. I do not believe that anything bad or insidious was meant by it. It was genuine, and not meant as a put down in any way. Normally, I’d be happy to hear it. But as a woman working in a male dominated field, where I have often felt that I’ve *needed* to shout out and dress down to be taken seriously, it really stung. It still does.

I subscribe to the saying ‘You don’t give offence, you *take* offence’. But before anyone shouts me down for this post, maybe try wearing those killer heels for a week in a similar situation, only to be hit with the reality of what counts higher up as ‘professional’, and tell me you wouldn’t be spitting fire about it to. This really does tie back to my earlier post. As much as I can look back on this incident, and know that logically, I took this in a way that was not intended, it just underscores that perception is an absolute bitch.

A Lesson in Perception Management

Yesterdays post, Perception is more important than results, discussed how a bad perception can render your achievements null and void. One response I got from a former manager of mine after the blog was posted was ‘Do you actually do any work or just write blog posts now?’.

Obviously, the answer to that is that I *do* work at work. By setting a posting schedule for WordPress to publish my blogs in the middle of a working day, I have to acknowledge that he makes an excellent point. The schedule, while saving me from having to log on and post things manually, is giving the perception of someone who is more focused on writing blog posts in the day as opposed to doing actual work.

Your online activity during the day (regardless of if you have a bot posting it for you or not), sends one overriding message – at *that* time of day, you are surfing the internet, posting things on social media. There is a time stamp right there, with your name next to it, for all of your contacts, personal and professional, to see. We’ve all been guilty of having a quick browse during the day, but if you want to leave the right impression to your peers that you’re actually being productive, it would not behoove you to leave the actual posting and sharing of content until outside of work hours.

Thanks, Mr Manager! I have changed my blog post schedule so as not to add to a workshy perception. I probably owe you beer.

Perception is more important than results.

I am a failure when it comes to office politics. I wear my heart on my sleeve, and I generally just act like myself. This is a problem when it comes to managing other peoples perceptions of you – and a bad perception can be incredibly damaging.

As a person, I am hard working, fast working (and talking!), I can pick up new things quickly, and I see a job through to the end. I’m honest and upfront – I’m not afraid to say exactly what I think. My memory is great. I’m enthusiastic, and love my job. All great assets in an employee, right?

On the flip side of that, I am so caught up in flying through my ‘to do list’ that I can lack attention to detail once I mentally check something off – meaning I can make some mistakes that I really should have caught before the QA team started giving serious consideration to lynching me in the car park.

I’m upfront to the point of being blunt. Without meaning to, I can really put someones back up by not stopping to think before I open my mouth.

My reaction to stressful times is to make fun of a situation, usually in a sarcastic manner.

My most recent encounter with office politics taught me a very harsh lesson. The work that I was kicking bottom with didn’t matter. The extra hours I’d put in did not matter. The perception people had of me was that I was not taking things seriously, and that was the feedback I was getting. The things I was doing well at weren’t even being considered by this point.

I railed against this in my head for quite a while. From my perspective, I was working harder than I ever had in my life. I was hurt that my actual results weren’t being examined fairly. I was putting in huge amounts of effort to take more care with what I was working on to produce fewer mistakes. It sucked. With a capital SUCK.

It still feels incredibly unjust in my head, and it feels really unfair. I will be taking on board the lesson, though – how your peers perceive you means more to your career than anything you achieve. It really is an attitude I’d love to see change, as perception often has little correlation with the reality of a situation.

The Fly

Friday night. It was a humid, muggy evening, and the windows were open.

Enter my new nemesis – the fly.

Over the course of the weekend, it tormented me. It flew around my head. It landed on any patch of bare skin. Like a lawn mower at 6am, its persistent drone proceeded to chip away at my sanity.

Everywhere I looked, the fly was there.

I attempted the pacifist approach, and left the windows wide open, hoping that it would peacefully vacate the premises. I used a notepad to try and gently waft it to a mutually beneficial egress. My flat is apparently prime estate though, and the fly remained.

My boyfriend farted in bed, and blamed the fly.

Neener neener! Flies make that noise. Really.
Neener neener! Flies make that noise. Really.

It was the final straw, and that is when I knew with crystal clear clarity.

The fly had to die.

Over the course of the next few days, I executed various plots to execute the invader.

It was too cunning to be caught up by the vacuum cleaner. Attempting to swat it midair just drew attention to my lack of gymnastic prowess. Sneaking up on it was an exercise in futility. Sadly, ninja I am not.

The fly anticipated my every move, and proceeded to mock me.

Late on Sunday night came the final battle. Armed with my trusty notepad and razor sharp wits, I waited. My boyfriend snickered, but I paid him no heed and prepared my ambush. A few hopeless flailings provided amusement. And then it happened. It landed on the ceiling. I swiftly positioned a chair to stand upon, and squashed it with an almighty – and satisfying – ‘thwack!’ as my notepad made contact. At last! Victory came with a brown smear on the ceiling.

I didn’t care about the clean up. Victory was mine, with a score of Fly: 200+, me: 1. It’s not about winning the battle. It’s about winning the war.

The lesson here? Buy some fly spray next time I go shopping.