Building and Maintaining Positive Relationships
The term professional is applied to occupations or activities related to work or careers that require certain skills, competence, or character. The related concept of professionalism refers to the principles of behavior and communication that are appropriate and effective in the se more formal settings. Professionalism is an important soft skill in the workplace (Robles, 2012). The Center for Professional Excellence (CPE), which conducts an annual survey on professionalism in the workplace, reported in 2015 (the last year the survey was conducted d) that HR professionals and managers designate a number of components of professionalism, including being focused, punctual/attentive, humble, diligent, and having communication skills.
Many of these components are directly related to verbal and nonverbal communication skills necessary to communicate with others in business and professional settings. However, these skills are lacking in recent graduates: The most recent annual NACE survey (2 018) found that 89.4% of students felt they were proficient in professionalism/work ethic but that only 42.5% of employers agreed.
The communication skills discussed thus far in this text apply to professional settings just a s much as they do to other environments. However, the context of a professional environment, such as the college classroom or the workplace, imposes some specific requirements on the ways that individuals communicate. Some of the most important requirements for conveying professionalism are outlined in the following sections. Many of the elements are central in business and professional settings but are important in our personal lives as well.
We often use informal language when we have a familiar relationship with someone, but fo rmal language should be used in academic and professional settings.
Formal language is more careful, articulate, and mannered than everyday speech. It is used to express serious thought and is clear, accurate, and not overly emotional. As we noted in Chapter 4 when discussing verbal communication, formal language is the standard and app ropriate form of communication in the academic world, in most professional settings, with clients and customers, in professional and technical writing, and in public speaking situatio ns. Formal language avoids idioms, popular slang, biased language, and verbal fillers such a s “like.” Recall from Chapter 4 that biased language includes racist, sexist, ablest, and homo phobic language, so it is wise to consider how others might prefer to be described and be cu lturally sensitive when selecting terms that others may find demeaning. In these ways, usin g formal language conveys professionalism and the principle of taking responsibility for ho w you communicate that we introduced in Chapter 1.
If we have established a familiar relationship with someone, we often use slang expressions in our conversations, e- mails, and texts, and we worry less about using correct punctuation, grammar, and sentenc e structure. It can be argued that everyday conversations, social network posts, text messag es, and personal e- mails have conditioned us to respond quickly and briefly to messages via both mediated an
d face-to- face channels. Specifically, Larry Rosen and his colleagues (2010) found that individuals wi th some or no college education who used more brief language in their electronic interactio ns (called textisms) also created formal writing that was of lower quality. This was also the c ase for individuals with some college education who sent more text and instant messages. A s a result of using more of these textisms, when we must deliver an oral presentation at wo rk or send a well-written letter or e- mail to a customer, we may be unsure how best to proceed. Failing to recognize the necessi ty of a more formal communication style in a professional setting is a significant mistake th at people make in the classroom and workplace. However, formal communication matters: Poor verbal skills during an interview, including incorrect grammar, often have negative consequences for job candidates (CPE, 2012) and c an leave a bad impression on coworkers or clients. So, it is wise to write (e.g., use grammar and spell checks, avoid casual language, etc.) and speak (e.g., use mutually- recognized jargon instead of slang, do not speak in hashtags or abbreviations, etc.) in class and at work more formally than you communicate via text and on social media. In sum, it is a good idea to treat education and work environments as formal language environments in which you put your best professional foot forward.
Plagiarizing, lying, cheating, missing deadlines, and not doing what you say you will do are behaviors that demonstrate a lack of integrity. Crucial for both personal and professional s uccess, integrity involves behaving and communicating honestly and ethically, being true to your word, and honoring your commitments. Having integrity reflects two of our compete nt interpersonal communication principles: taking responsibility for your communication b ehavior and respecting others and yourself. Business executives rank integrity as the most i mportant soft skill in the workplace (Robles, 2012), and Indeed.com (n.d.) lists integrity as a n important soft skill that employers seek in job candidates. Lack of integrity affects your re putation and undermines others’ trust in you and thus negatively affects your professionali sm. It is extremely difficult to restore trust in a relationship once it is broken. Plagiarism, for example, is an important example of an integrity violation. You commit plagi arism when you present someone else’s words or ideas as if they are your own. In other wo rds, you must give the original source of an idea the proper credit, or you are being dishone st and unethical by presenting someone else’s work— be it their writing, data, thoughts, or even answers on an exam— as if you did the work yourself. Plagiarizing can range from buying someone else’s paper on the Internet and submitting it with your name on it to using your own paper in multiple co urses without informing your instructors. Allowing someone to copy your exam answers is also plagiarism, as is not participating in a group project but taking credit for the final prod uct.
We tend to think of plagiarism as just an academic integrity violation, but many of these exa mples can extend to the business world as well. For example, what if you worked really har d on an idea that you had for a new product idea at your company, but your colleague, who you had confided in about your idea early on, presented it to your boss first as their own? Y
ou would likely feel betrayed, angry, and even violated. That is how someone else might fee l if they discovered that another person was presenting their hard work as their own witho ut it being properly credited to them.
How do we ensure that we are not committing plagiarism? In academic settings, every univ ersity has an academic integrity policy that you can familiarize yourself with. Course syllabi also frequently spell out what plagiarism is, and your course instructor is always happy to discuss how to avoid plagiarizing before you begin working on a project or when a paper is still in draft form. In the workplace, be clear about which contributions were made by whic h team members in a group project, and be careful who you share a “big idea” with if it may be proprietary later. Always try to put ideas in writing (even e- mail) early on to establish their provenance.
Respect for Others
As we mentioned in Chapter 1, respect is one of the principles of competent interpersonal c ommunication. Respect for others is also imperative for success in your personal and profe ssional life. Be considerate of others by using respectful language, being polite, and being e ncouraging. Someone who is respectful also appreciates diversity, values differences amon g coworkers, avoids biased language and attitudes, and calls people by the terms and name s that they prefer to be called. Additionally, communicating with respect will aid you in achi eving your goals—including those in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, for example— as well as in building and maintaining positive relationships with coworkers and classmate s that render it easier to complete school- and work-related goals.
Over the past few decades, language in professional settings has evolved to replace sexist a nd other biased terms with more inclusive language (see examples in Table 6.1). Using mor e inclusive language demonstrates respect for others, which reflects professionalism.
Table 6.1: Replacing sexist or biased language with inclusive terms