It is expected that all of us in the healthcare workplace communicate, act, and dress “professionally.” Those of us who work in the credentialing, privileging and enrollment world deal with many different individuals and departments. Some of us have been able to get away from dressing professionally during the pandemic as we worked from home (or we only needed to look professional from the shoulders up!). But it has still been necessary for all of us to behave and communicate in a professional manner.
Employee handbooks often contain vague – and consequently not very helpful - definitions of how to actually adhere to expectations of “professionalism.” Real professional right?! According to our good friends at Merriam-Webster, professionalism is defined as, “Exhibiting a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace.” Let’s unpack what that definition really means and how it can be applied.
1. Communication is often misread, misinterpreted, and misunderstood. Traditionally, objectivity is best; however, in a more electronic environment, objectivity can easily be interpreted as aggressive or rude, potentially offending clients and co-workers alike. The best way to ensure your written message is delivered as intended and with the most accuracy, is to read it out loud prior to sending. When in doubt, ask a trusted co-worker to read your message and provide feedback (proof-reading is a great idea as well!). Limit your exclamation points, underline, bold, italics, and CAPS LOCK as these tools are often associated with a negative temperament as opposed to attention. Use with caution and sparingly. Manners are also essential. Be polite and respectful in all written and verbal conversations. Please also keep in mind that being professional in your communication does not mean you have to be cold or dismissive. Knowing when it is appropriate to be warm with pleasantries versus just being a little more direct is a great skill to have, but takes practice to achieve.
2. How does one “act professional?” While brainstorming on writing this article, I could come up with a thousand examples of what NOT to do but really struggled to identify some “how to’s” for this section. I think the key here is to really know your audience and always err on the side of caution. Relationships, business and personal alike, are built on rapport and the really valuable ones eventually involve trust. Building rapport takes time and effort on both sides but is also the fine line between appropriateness in candid or formal communication. I feel very strongly that acting professional is less content specific and more audience appropriate. For instance, it would be unprofessional of me to divulge my personal opinion regarding a new business policy to a client, but that same dialog would be considered professional in a department meeting among co-workers while discussing the policy change. Punctuality is another facet of acting professional. Especially with all of our virtual meetings, being on-time and on or off of mute as appropriate, is critical. I’m sure that you have heard about (and perhaps have experienced) some faux-pas that individuals have made during virtual meetings – and these are considered not only unprofessional, but also rude.
3. Appearance is relative and often left to personal discretion or the requirements of your immediate supervisor. In layman’s terms, be conservative and wear properly fitted clothing. When you are comfortable and confident in the clothes you are wearing and they fit correctly, you tend to fidget with them less, adjusting here or there during meetings and other inopportune times. With more and more of us working from home, it seems that we have become a bit relaxed in this area. For me personally, I still have to follow my routine, get dressed and do my hair before I start work - otherwise I am stuck in a mental “Saturday mode”…not professional. Please do not get me wrong, I’m not saying you need to dress to the nines while working from home. However, you can still run a brush through your hair, brush your teeth and put on your “nice” sweats before work. When you dress professionally, it truly does help you to act professionally as well.
Being kind, courteous and respectful of others in all of your communications and other's in all of your communications and interactions, will assure that your colleagues and others with whom you work see you as the professional that you are. No one is criticized for being professional – but the reverse can have lasting consequences to our careers and relationships.