Tag Archives: professionalism

The Art of the Answer

Hopefully, most adults already know the information that I’m about to share.  I know for a fact that most teenagers fresh out of high school do not.  Therefore, if you are in college, I’m about to give you a huge boost over all of your peers.  This may help you professionally, but it will DEFINITELY save your personal relationships, mostly because the fix is so subtle that most people only notice the effects and not the cause, meaning you get the credit but still maintain your mystery.

If someone you respect – perhaps even like – says something that you didn’t hear or don’t understand, you have been presented with an immediate test of maturity and adulthood.

Person: “Hey Steve! Can you poejopfwfkoepqk…”

Steve: “What?”

Steve has failed the test.  Hard.  “What?” is an innocent question that teenagers are used to asking – and that’s because teenagers don’t know anything.  A young adult will condition himself to answer differently.

“Yeah,” you might think, “but you’re a stuffy English teacher.  I don’t need to use your rules in my personal, casual life.”

You don’t know this because most people don’t know this unless they think about it, which they don’t: “What” and “Huh” as one-word questions both induce maximum rage.  Think about the last time you explained something and someone answered, “What?”

In fact, think about the last time you called someone’s name and they answered, “What?”

Have I proven my point yet?

“What” at the wrong time can derail a conversation and ruin an interaction before you can even begin to think about why it happened.  That’s because “What” or “huh” imply any of these 4 things.

  1. “Uh… what?” You’re stupid.  Your mind is too simple to comprehend what was being said.
  2. “… what?” You aren’t paying attention.  Disrespect.
  3. “What?” You don’t care.  Disrespect.
  4. “What?!” (What.) You’re spitting attitude. Disrespect.

None of these 4 things are good for your personal relationships – especially if they already know you aren’t stupid.

“Huh” is even worse than “What” because it makes you make a stupid face while you say it.

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“Huh” is the reason your parents still think you can’t handle your business.

“Huh” is the reason you being on your phone counts as you being “on the phone all the time” instead of just the one time you were using it in front of them.

“Huh” is the reason nobody thinks you can multi-task.

Try this experiment.  The next time someone calls your name, answer with “How can I help you?”  The next time someone says something that you don’t hear, answer with “I heard something about ____ but I didn’t hear all of it.” or even “Could you repeat the last sentence you said?  I think I misheard you.”

You’ll avert so many arguments that you’re used to having.

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This lesson needs to be taught in schools.  I told my students about this, and one of my students asked, “Why?”

I told her that she didn’t know it yet, but she actually hated people who say it.  “You won’t find this out until you move in with someone and ask them something from the kitchen while he’s in the living room.”

Parenthood will also bring this issue up really fast.  My parents weren’t having it.  “Yes, Mom!” was the answer demanded, and had I more courage I would have met this demand with goose-stepping and the obligatory salute to these fascist dictators.

We weren’t really good about saying that until we were older, but if you wanted to get on my parents’ beatdown list all you had to do was say “What?” when they called your name.  If it was for something bad, you were automatically in trouble for it regardless of the explanation, and if it was for something good, it was immediately canceled.

“HOAN!”

“What?”

“Never mind, you can eat tomorrow.”

Even armed with the explicit knowledge of exactly how our parents wanted us to answer them, we were awful at avoiding our parents’ wrath for this particular offense.

Avoid my mistakes, children.  Be better.  Right my wrongs.

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The Man-Bag Movement

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Not that I need validation or anything, but that’s Terry Crews with his man-bag. Mine looks more rugged than his, but I wouldn’t say that to his face.

I admit it – I have joined the Man-Bag Movement.

I’m a disorganized person.  It’s a fact.  I have a horrible short-term memory, so the best way for me to find something is for me to leave things exactly where they last were, so I can use CSI skills to find them.  Nothing drives me crazier than not being able to find something because somebody moved them.

Growing up, I often clashed with my parents, particularly my father on this point.  It would get to the point that he would eventually swoop in and clean my room – which wouldn’t last long, because I would wreck the place again looking for the one particular adapter he put in some drawer.  The only one I could trust to put things in a place where I would put them was my brother, mostly because he and I shared a room for a long time before I got my own room, so he was well-practiced in the art of Respecting Older Brother’s Things.  While I pursued my Bachelor’s I couldn’t take the mind-clutter of keeping things neat (an apparent term of my continued “tenancy” at my parents’ place) and just paid him to clean my stuff every weekend.

Then I got married.  When I showed my wife how my workspace functioned and the best way to keep it together for me, she was horrified.  The first time I lost my wallet, she was not happy.  The 90th time I lost my phone, she nearly snapped.

“What you need,” she said, more or less, minus the strong language, “is a purse.”

At the same time, I was going through a clothing transition.  As a professional, I wanted to project a certain image with my look.  I had always taken my clothing for granted as a kid, mostly due to my schools always having a uniform policy.  In college, I noticed that clothing definitely made a difference.  I wanted to make the permanent switch to my “adult professional” look.

This wasn’t a problem.  In fact, as a big guy, my pockets were huge.  I was a professional beast on weekdays.  On weekends, however, my pockets bulged, pulling my pants down and even damaging the cloth.  It should be noted that the weekend is also the only time my wife really sees me.  Going out would take about a 30 minute head start for me to gather my bearings, let alone the possessions I would need.

A backpack would work, but my shoulders are much too broad to actually wear one.

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So I bought a man-bag.  I thought it would be the same as having a cinch sack in which to dump stuff.  Not even close!  It’s not about the container, it’s about the structure.  Grabbing my bag is like putting pants on with pockets already loaded for the situation.  The main pocket has the wallet inside, the outside pocket fits the phone.  The portable battery has its own compartment so it’s not in the way of the reach for the wallet.

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It feels nothing like a backpack.  The bag rests behind me until I swing it to my side to grab my phone like Indiana Jones reaching for his bag of sand – nothing like the hassle of fishing a wallet from a backpack.  When it’s time to go, I’m ready in seconds, waiting for my wife to be ready – as God intended.

(This kind of reminded me of high school too, because I used to wear my school-supplied laptop on my body.) I feel like if half the people who scoff at the use of a man-bag used one for three weeks, they would never go back.  First week to see the practicality, second week to use it on-the-go, third week to start exploring the other lesser-used parts of the bag.

If you want to look at the one I got, it’s here.

This is the obligatory paragraph where I admit my wife was right – and that not only was she right, but she was right while I was wrong – an important distinction.  It is apparently important that despite the win-win situation of me being more organized, I also acknowledge that on some scale there is an aspect of this situation in which she is the winner and I am the loser, and I acknowledge it here.

Oh shut up, guys, haters wind up single and alone.

The Gift of Discomfort

Some have the goal of wanting to live a comfortable life.  That’s groovy.  Comfort is indeed a lofty goal – to find that set of preferences that are just right for you, until the ultimate man-cave is complete.  Sure, why not?  Especially in a home, find your comfort.

Professionally?  Get that out of my face.  Nobody appreciates the comfortable employee.  “I’m just the mechanic, I don’t do nothing else.”  I’d write reverse work recommendations for that guy if he ever had to change jobs (by force, of course, considering he’d never want to move.)

In fact, everyone should be uncomfortable for a lot of the time.  I don’t know why, but there’s a large push even in child education not to make people “uncomfortable.”

Oh, don’t make that person go on stage, he has stage fright.  Oh, that person doesn’t like writing, can we give him the test orally instead?  Wow he’s so smart now!  He got an A on the test!

Not if it’s a WRITING test, smarty pants!

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“We want people who only do what they’re trained to do, and never do anything that makes them uncomfortable.” – No Employer Ever

How we handle discomfort is how we are judged as adults.  Unless you think you’ve experienced everything you need to experience by junior year.  Being an adult is doing things you don’t want to do in places you don’t want to be in order to get where you want to go.

You think in college you’ll have done everything before?  You think in college you won’t have to risk embarassment in front of your entire class?  You think the work world wants someone who won’t risk discomfort?  Are you going to just work “comfortable jobs,” – which, at entry level, reside comfortably on a list above the words “None, you idiot” – ?

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I remember when being around people unwilling to risk themselves and put themselves out there was a daily thing, and let me tell you it was the hardest thing in the world to respect someone who resented the world for not bringing itself to them.  They would wonder why they didn’t get good things or recognition for ambition, and would even feel and express resentment and jealousy for those around them who did put themselves out there.  I’ve long since cut those people from my life – or in some cases, was fortuitous enough to be cut from theirs due to that same resentment.

My response now can be best expressed through the words of Thomas Jefferson:

“Nothing can stop the man with the right mental attitude from achieving his goal; nothing on earth can help the man with the wrong mental attitude.”

7 Ways to Maintain Professionalism

“How did this happen?” you might ask yourself one day.  Your job has become a drama nightmare with hurt feelings, drama, and rumors affecting your professional life at every turn.  Sometimes it’s a matter of being a part-timer in a sea of full-timers who live their jobs.  Other times you’ve just rubbed someone the wrong way who can’t separate their work lives from who they are as a person.  So here are some ways to maintain your professionalism and keep your job from being an uncomfortable place.

1. Remember that your job is not your life.

It’s your job.  Your career is very important to you, I’m sure, but nothing that happens there should affect who you are as a person.  It should just reflect your work performance.  People who say things about you don’t know you.  So why should you care what they think?

2. Apologize.

What do people have against being wrong?  Take one for the team.  The problem is everybody is so afraid that someone else is going to jump all over them if they show weakness.  Simply apologize, even if you’re not sorry.  “I’m sorry, man, that must have been my mistake.” has never made any enemies.  Don’t explain yourself either.  Just say you’re sorry, that it won’t happen again, and then make that the truth.

3.  Keep your mouth shut.

Don’t share what other people tell you, even if they didn’t call it a secret.  Make it a given that whatever is said to you stays with you.  Even small things.  If someone asks “why didn’t you just tell so and so this or that?” say that you didn’t think it was the professional thing to do without permission.  It will gain a massive amount of respect.

4. Do you.

Do your job.  Don’t worry about other people not doing their job.  Do YOUR job.  If their job impacts you, do what it takes to make up for the slack, then make sure your job is on point.  Anybody slipping is going to get caught eventually.  Don’t mediate an argument you’re not in, don’t corroborate a story someone gives, just do you.

5. Keep your personal opinions to yourself.

Nobody cares what you think about that coworker having a baby so young.  Definitely don’t comment on policy.  If you want to talk about it at home, have at it, but at work you definitely don’t want to be associated with the complainers.  People who would have you join their complaint often have some kind of seniority to back them up that YOU don’t have.  Better to be mysterious.  Especially if you’re working a part-time job and/or paying your dues, just be comforted that this isn’t the endgame for you, and that you’re passing through.

6. Remember names, and in the second person use them often.

Refrain from ever talking about people in the third person, lest you become a rumor-monger.  However, when talking directly to that person try to name-drop as much as possible.  People like hearing their own name from people talking to them.

7. Look busy.

My dad taught me this one.  He used to be ahead of schedule in everything he did.  At work, he finished his project early.  This meant that he was one of the only people not on-project when it was time for layoffs.  Which meant he was laid off for being off-project.  It doesn’t matter if you’re the best; if you look like you aren’t needed, then you probably aren’t, they figure.