“A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it.” –Alistair Cooke
I love this quote because it epitomizes how I believe a professional person should act. Having worked in this industry for almost a decade, I’ve had the privilege to work with some of the most amazing professional people, as well as a few people who have, er, challenged me. One of the main lessons I’ve taken away from all of these experiences is to always keep it professional, especially with clients. It will make all of your day-to-day interactions more pleasant and keep you an all-around happier person.
The key to keeping things professional is to try and focus only on the points related to the project topic and keep the personal opinions out of the equation. If topics veer off course into personal matters, try to keep them short and light. There is a long list of topics that should be avoided, but I know everyone reading this can probably figure out what they are. If it’s controversial or heated, it’s best left out of the workplace.
What if circumstances go even further and someone begins to verbally or personally attack you? The first thing to do is assess the situation to make sure this wasn’t something you inadvertently started. If it was, the best course of action is just to apologize. Often times a simple and sincere “I’m sorry, please forgive me” can go a long way. I’ve stuck my foot in my mouth a few times, not even realizing it until after the fact. There was no backtracking without looking like a bigger jerk, so I just stopped what I was doing and apologized. And it WORKED, and we were able to move on from that situation. Don’t be afraid of the “I’m sorry”, it will make your life a lot easier and calm the waters more quickly.
This is also a great strategy to use when you feel very passionately about your design and may cross a line defending it. As a designer, this is a feeling I understand very well. I created this (what I think is a) FABULOUS design. I love it, it’s like my most precious of possessions, and I present it to my boss or the client and they… DON’T love it. How could they not LOOOVE IT? It’s perfect! Trust me when I say it only appears to be this way because you are so close to it. Sometimes, as designers, it can be difficult to look at our own work with an objective eye. This is also true for thinking everything we make looks like a dirty bathroom stall when everyone else thinks it looks great. Most of the time it’s ideal to have another set of eyes look at what you are working on to give a fresh perspective.
Now if a personal attack was unprovoked, the best course of action is to address the other person’s “concerns” in a professional manner, trying your best to be kind and to the point. Try to diffuse the situation. Nothing good will come from stooping to the level of the attacker and getting in a few jabs. Though it might feel good at the time, in the long run it will only cause you more problems. It is also a good idea to document everything for future reference in case the situation escalates and documentation is necessary.
We’re all human, and you never know someone’s whole story. Maybe they are just having a really bad day and what you thought was innocent was a huge trigger for that person. Maybe the person is just a hot-head. Whatever other people’s reasons are for not being professional in the workplace, it doesn’t matter. The next time you are faced with a tense situation at work, take the high road. The only person you can control is yourself.