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Professionalism

How to Conduct Yourself at Work

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Designers working together on a project

A true professional is willing to help his or her co-workers when they are overburdened.

Cavan Images/Iconica/Getty Images

Professionalism is defined as one's conduct at work. In spite of the word's root, this quality is not restricted to those in occupations we describe as "professions," typically those which require a high level of education and have high earnings. Cashiers, janitors and waitresses can demonstrate a high level of this trait, just as doctors, lawyers or engineers can display a low level of it, and vice versa.

As with good health, the absence of professionalism is usually more obvious than its presence. Who will notice whether you have this quality or not? Your boss definitely will as will your customers and co-workers, and it can affect your ability to keep your job and advance in your career. So what can you do to make sure you exhibit professionalism and what can you do to ensure that you don't show a lack of it? Follow these dos and don'ts:

Make Being on Time a Priority: Showing up late for work or meetings gives the impression that you don't care about your job so make sure you pay attention to the clock. Not only does this go for start times, but this tip also applies to returning from your lunch break.

Don't Be a Grump: Leave your bad mood at the door when you come to work. We all have days when we aren't feeling our best. Remember not to take it out on your boss, your co-workers and especially your customers. If work is what's causing you to be grumpy, it may be time to think about quitting your job. If that isn't a good option for you, make the best of the situation until it is.

Dress Appropriately: For many jobs, workplace attire doesn't include wearing a suit and tie. Whether or not you have to dress up for work or you can wear more casual clothes, your appearance should always be neat and clean. A wrinkled suit looks no better than a ripped pair of jeans. Wear the type of clothing your employer requires or that is the norm for your place of employment. Generally speaking, revealing clothing is a no-no. Flip flops, shorts and tank tops should be saved for the weekends.

Watch Your Mouth: Swearing, cursing or cussing—whatever you call it—has no place at work, particularly if those who might be offended by it are present. If you wouldn't say it to your grandmother, refrain from saying it at work. Using bad language makes it seem as if your vocabulary is limited.

Offer To Help Colleagues: A true professional is willing to help his or her co-workers when they are overburdened. He or she isn't afraid to share knowledge, opinion or simply an extra pair of hands. One person's success reflects well on everyone in his or her workplace.

Don't Gossip: While you may be tempted to tell your cubicle neighbors what you heard about Suzy or Sam down in accounting, gossiping makes you look like a middle school student. If you know something that simply must be shared, tell someone who has nothing to do with your workplace, like your sister, brother or best friend.

Try to Stay Positive: Negativity at work brings everyone down and your boss will certainly not appreciate a drop in morale among his or her employees. Instead, if you think something can be improved, try to do something to make that happen.

Don't Hide From Your Mistakes: As hard as it may be, take ownership of your errors and do your best to correct them and make sure you don't make the same one twice. Never blame others, but set an example for those who were also responsible to do as you've done.

Always Fight Fair: It is inevitable that you will occasionally have disagreements with your co-workers, or even your boss. You may think that something should be done one way, while someone else will believe it should be done another. Don't let yourself lose control. No matter how upset you are or how strongly you believe you are right, screaming isn't allowed, nor is name calling or door slamming. And, it should go without saying that physical attacks should always be avoided, no matter what. Calmly explain your opinion and be ready to walk away if the other person can't be swayed or if he or she begins to lose control.

Don't Lie: Dishonestly never makes anyone look good, whether it's lying on one's resume or calling in sick. A true professional is upfront, so if you aren't qualified for the job, either don't apply for it or send in your application anyway and explain why you'd be perfect for the job in spite of it. As for lying about being sick, if you need a day off take a personal or vacation day.

Don't Air Your Dirty Laundry: While confiding in a close friend at work is usually okay, sharing too much information with the entire office isn't. Be judicious about whom you talk to, particularly when it comes to discussing problems with your spouse or other family members. If you do decide to share personal information with your co-workers, make sure to do it away from where customers and clients can overhear you.

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