B is for Behavior

How you behave in the workplace tells others how professional you are.

Career Strategies, By Jerilyn Willin


In October, a friend and I decided to take a chocolate tour of Chicago. On the appointed day, we showed up at the Wrigley Building and began looking for our tour guide. We approached a woman who, while looking rather cross, also looked official. Was she connected with the chocolate tour, we asked.


“Yes,” she replied. “We’re waiting for a second guide. She’s late and I can’t take everyone.” She checked off our names and dismissed us by never making eye contact again. A few minutes later, the second guide arrived. Participants were asked to join one of the two women.


“I don’t want to go with crabby pants,” one young woman whispered to her friend. Others must have felt the same way, as much coaxing was needed to get the right number of people in her group.


Often we think of behavior as performance, but the two are not always the same thing. None of us knew the competence or experience of the “crabby” guide. Her knowledge of the seven chocolate shops to be visited may have been stellar, but her initial behavior turned people off.


Behavior, as well as performance, affects the bottom line of any business. Not only does behavior affect repeat business, it also affects the bottom line in terms of employee morale and turnover. What role does behavior play in your organization? Does your company have a results-at-all-costs culture or does how results are obtained enter into the mix? Where does courtesy, respect, and professionalism, to internal as well as external customers, fall on your organization’s radar? Lip service, part of your organization’s performance appraisal system or somewhere in between? And how might those behaviors be defined?


Most people would probably find it easier to tell you what being unprofessional is, giving examples of unprofessional people they have dealt with in the past. However, it is much easier and more positive to know what to do than not to do.” Tash Hughes of Word Constructions.com goes on in her post Being A Professional to list a number of behaviours: apologizing, taking responsibility, being prepared for meetings, and accepting feedback to name a few. http://www.wordconstructions.com/articles/business/professional.html


For most of us, behaviors such as punctuality, keeping confidences, and being fair in constructive feedback are common sense. How did we learn them? Did we see them exhibited in the workplace early in our careers? Did we learn them in school? In any case, professional behavior is essential to workplace success and it is our responsibility as individuals experienced in professional workplace behaviour to pass this knowledge on to those who are new. There is a wide gap between what is acceptable on campus and what will help bring success at corporate.


In this age of increased technology, new forms of bad behavior can be seen daily in business. How many of us have been in meetings where people are obviously texting one another, or texting in general rather than participating in the discussion? How many folks neglect to turn off their phones (or at least put them on vibrate) during meetings? The “pace of business” is a poor excuse for lack of courtesy/rude behavior in the workplace.


In The Cost of Bad Behavior, author Christine Porath devotes an entire chapter to her work at Cisco Systems. I quote, “The company values interpersonal skills and mutual respect in its hiring, but when Porath helped Cisco calculate the impact of even occasional acts of incivility, it amounted to a hefty sum. If just 1 percent of employees experienced workplace incivility, she says, the cost of lost work time and employee departures would add up to almost $12 million a year.”


In surveys, Porath has found that a staggering 96 percent of people in the United States have experienced incivility at work, but only 9 percent reported it to human resources, a disparity that may explain why managers underestimate the cost of incivility. Rude and disrespectful behavior, she says, can be found across all industries in both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. Porath also has found that 12 percent of employees have left their jobs because they were treated uncivilly. It costs employers 1.5 times to 2.5 times an employee’s annual salary to find a replacement when a worker leaves. The quickest way to persuade managers to focus on workplace civility, she says, is to share this statistic to illustrate the high cost of doing nothing. 



Professional, courteous behavior is a soft skill with hard consequences when it goes missing. Part of good behavior is being simply being present in the moment to what is happening, looking beyond the press of the buzzing phone.


A client recently told me of an experience he had while getting his haircut. While the stylist did a great job (he’d been going to her for years), he had been thinking about finding someone new as he felt invisible while sitting in her chair. “She was always talking to people other than me, occasionally answering her phone. I literally felt like an object. Last time I was there, it was amazing. She concentrated only on me. When her phone rang, she commented that voice mail would take care of it. She looked me in eye (through the mirror) as we chatted. It was a wonderful experience.” His stylist was always talented and when she added professionalism and courtesy to her services she retained a customer on the verge of leaving.


Take some time to look and listen to general interactions in your department and as you walk through the halls. Are people treating each other as you would expect they treat customers? Keep in mind, how people treat each other is often a reflection of how they are treated. It all begins with us.


Check out the first in Jerilyn’s Alphabet Series, The ABC’s of Career Strategies.


Featured Image Courtesy of  gubgib / Free Digital Photos

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