In our ongoing discussion about professionalism, I believe it's time to turn from talking about online behavior to discussing attitude and actions in the workplace. As a consultant, I work with numerous clients, each with a unique environment and corporate culture. I believe everyone should act professionally, whether you're working with coworkers, vendors, or clients.
Unfortunately, many times when people stop acting professional, they also stop acting polite. In his book "Friday" (Ballentine Publishing Group, 1983), science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein puts it this way:
"Sick cultures show a complex of symptoms such as you have named ... but a dying culture invariably exhibits personal rudeness. Bad manners. Lack of consideration for others in minor matters. A loss of politeness, of gentle manners, is more significant than is a riot." —Dr. Hartley M. Baldwin
Indeed, our culture seems to be heading that way.
Most employees in service and consulting organizations interact with clients often, sometimes daily. Given the drop in profitability of hardware and software sales, many companies (e.g., Cisco Systems, Microsoft, IBM) are focusing on services now much more than ever. I've seen clients fire their service vendors because of vendor field staff's actions—everything from cursing while dealing with a particularly nasty problem to simply not giving the client the respect that he or she deserved. As the saying goes, "the customer is always right," and if you work for a service organization, it's the client who pays your salary.
Keep in mind that every coworker, including subordinates and supervisors, is a customer. In any company, employees provide several services, both internally and externally. Performing for internal clients is just as important as satisfying your external clients. And although your internal clients might not pay for your salary, they do write your paycheck and choose to keep you employed.
One of the best things you can do is to set a good example. Be responsive, be helpful, and provide more than is expected. If you know a new technology (or your company sponsors your training), share what you learned—it's cost-free training for your coworkers. And if you refrain from swearing, software piracy, and similar activities, then others who engage in these activities might realize the image they're projecting.
I challenge you to do your utmost to act professional in the workplace for a month. If you can do it for that long, you'll have made it a habit. You'll not only be doing yourself some good, you'll be providing an example for others.