We Felt Like We Were Interrupting Her Personal Life

How Professional is Your Organization? (4 Tips for Being Regarded as a True Professional)

Meet The Parents, Universal Studios and DreamWorks

Meet The Parents, Universal Studios and DreamWorks (CLICK to WATCH (1:41))

We stood there, dumbfounded…
Recently, while attempting to make an airline connection in Brazil, my girlfriend (Maggie) and I took our paper tickets to the counter to get our seat assignments. As we approached the desk, the clerk, “Mariana” had her head down and was carrying on about her weekend to the person on the other end of the phone. When she finally looked up, we were greeted with a half-smile (no words – she still had the phone held against her ear). For the next 31 minutes (we timed it), Mariana continued with her personal phone conversation and occasionally pecked at the computer keyboard, never really telling us what she was doing. Maggie and I just kept looking at each other, as if to say, “I can’t believe this is actually happening.” We felt like we were interrupting her personal life.

You might be thinking, “But Steve, why would you put up with such behavior for 31 minutes? Why didn’t you say something?”
There’s more to the story; in effect we were between a rock and a hard place and needed her help. We had been led to believe that she could help us with a situation stemming from an overcharge. As it turns out, she couldn’t and we only ended up at another desk with more “can’t doers.”

While this sounds like an extreme case of unprofessionalism (new word), it seems to be the norm these days. Did you know that we experience 1/20th the number of human interactions today, as compared to 20 years ago? While this is certainly startling, there’s also a clear reason as to why it’s so true.

It’s sometimes difficult to define professionalism, yet we know when it’s there, and when it isn’t — when we’re experiencing it, and when we’re not. You can think of professionalism as setting a standard below which you will refuse to go, and not compromising that standard, even if others around you compromise theirs. (Think about the (very professional) band on the sinking ship in the movie Titanic). I invite you to consider the following:

1. What Distinguishes You From The Pack?

What makes you and/or your company different from the competition? It seems to me that the folks who are doing little or no complaining about our current economy and its effect on their business are often the same ones who best exhibit the qualities we associate with the sometimes elusive quality of professionalism. These companies and their employees are perceived and regarded as competent, and capable and present themselves well. This quality must exist on all levels of your enterprise and be expressed in everything you do. Professional relationships must exist within the company just as they must exist between the company and its clients. This doesn’t mean you and your staff shouldn’t be having any fun – that would be awful. It just means that you all must set a standard, below which you will refuse to go.


2. You and Your People Are Always “On Stage”

Have you ever noticed how interested people are, in the behind-the-scenes of your operation? Many reality shows have been created to satisfy this curiosity, which seems to exist inside so many of us.
Here are a few more examples: You’re at the doctor’s office, the hair salon, the DMV. Your head is down and you’re reading a magazine. But you’re still aware of the employees and how they are behaving; interacting and representing the organization. Or you walk into someone’s office, only to find them rushing to close a window on their computer screen. We are always on stage, within our company and in the eyes of our clients. What statements along the lines of “We always …” and “We never …” have you adopted/developed for yourself and your team?


3. How Professional Are Your Words; Voice Tone; Body Language?

A popular study conducted by UCLA reveals the three components of communication (specifically as it pertains to likeability): words, voice tone and body language. When I work with teams of employees, we spend a lot of time honing communication skills. Not only do words create our world, they imply certain things to listeners. Choose words carefully when speaking and writing. Be conscious of your tone of voice and your body language – especially when you are face-to-face with others.


4. Consistency, Consistency, Consistency

If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right – and consistently. Consistency falls under the umbrella of professionalism in a big way. Think of some of the professionals you most respect, and identify some of the best practices they deliver on a consistent basis. Twice a year, clients on my physical mailing list receive a postcard reminder to change their clocks. I’ve been doing this for more than a decade, consistently. If I missed one “Fall Back” or one “Spring Forward,” I’d feel less professional – and might even be perceived that way.

Consistency means presenting neither employees nor clients with “surprises.” Inconsistency is unsettling, while consistency is comfortable and familiar – and puts those around you at ease.


“Professionalism is knowing how to do it, when to do it, and doing it.” -Frank Tyger


  1. I love this article. I wish I could pass it along especially the part about consistency. If I did pass it along I would be guilty of subversion and thrown out the door for suggesting that we need to work on some things. 🙂

  2. Thanks, Dan. I appreciate you for sharing your impressions (and for your sense of humor). Best, Steve

  3. Steve, in my opinion, the themes you outline and emphasize are essential to the success of any business, no matter the size. The more attention, professionalism and genuine courtesy a person displays, the more I respect them and their company. Its a way of doing business that can get lost amongst those who outsource their work, despise their job or have become “cant do-ers.” Its not just saying the right things, its DOING the right things. Some people follow through, some leave you unsatisfied and scratching your head.

    Yet, something to consider is the idea that professionalism is all you need. Its quite easy to blur the lines of professionalism and common courtesy. Much like the Meet the Parents scene you so wisely chose. It is a perfect depiction of the lack of understanding, courtesy and can’t do attitude that you refer to. Now boarding all rows!

  4. Philip Justus says

    On Professionalism. Thanks for the opportunity to reminisce about my encounter with professionalism.

    I remember, as a kid riding public buses to school, how the attitude of two bus drivers affected the sense of well-being of many others, each day. One would hurry-up passengers stepping up slowly or cautiously, like an elderly person. The passengers who could not react were clearly hurt that they were holding up the bus; on-lookers felt badly for them and angry with the driver. Another driver, would greet each person, some by name, never rush anyone, only cajole them into squeezing together to let more onboard. Passengers, on-lookers, felt good.
    I’ll bet you never met a person who acted with professionalism who did not like his or her job. Well, don’t bet the farm (it’s likely to be so). People act professional if they are respectful of others. I think that’s a prerequisite of professionalism. A professional ticket-counter person (surrogate for any employee) would treat every potential customer with his/her utmost respect, without exception, and, I’ll bet the more ornry the customer the more “respect” is shown by the employee.
    Thanks for provoking my thoughts. Phil

  5. You are so right, Steve! The extreme unprofessionalism is becoming an epidemic in our country. I regularly find myself shaking my head in disbelief as a consumer, thinking that if I ever ran my business this way I’d be out of business in the blink of an eye! There are quick and easy, nearly free ways to differentiate yourself in the market today based on this trend…a smile, eye contact, actual genuine interest in the other person, a sincere commitment to serve and add value…these things are priceless distinguishers nowadays rather than the baseline. There are so many “can’t-do-ers” out there, that if you simply demonstrate leadership or a desire to help in any way, you’ll stand out from the crowd. What ever happened to manners, etiquette, service?

  6. Steve, Just wanted to say this was a great newsletter. I always read, appreciate and digest the information you send, but professionalism is one that strikes a chord in me. I’m constantly amazed at my coworkers who don’t even know what professionalism is, and they’re conducting themselves that way IN FRONT OF PATIENTS!! Where did we lose the ability to conduct ourselves with respect and consideration of others?

    I can’t believe the encounter you had with that agent. I think I would’ve lost it! Thanks for all the effort you put into the newsletter!

  7. Love it! They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but somehow you always manage to create this view in your writing. I think consistency and organization have a lot to do with one another. If you’re not organized then you’ll lose control of your system (assuming you want well-flowing life and have systems in place) ;D

  8. Kyle, Phil, Suzi, Danielle and Masoud!
    Thanks so much for offering your valuable feedback. This seems to have struck a real chord, since the comments are flowing in so regularly now. Next month’s post promises to be a great supplement to this piece on “Professionalism.” (almost a “Part 2”) Thanks again, Steve.

  9. Steve…..short and sweet! Right on the money!

    Consistency is the name of the game. These are words that I live by day in and day out because that my friend, is the key to success.

    Expect the best, and often you get it! However, the best comes form exactly what the article states. Be unique and creative. Have a product that is different and helpful…that sets you apart from the rest. Have a professional perspective and be yourself. When you have something to say, say it right with the thought in mind that you want to speak at the level of those who are listening. Watch your words…

    Live the passion you want to share by staying consistent. That is what folks will learn to expect from you and nothing less!

    Great newsletter… You are on target! Can’t wait to read the next one!

  10. Great info

  11. There is obviously a bunch to realize about this. I assume you made some nice points in features also.

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