PROFESSIONALISM
  • Treating others with respect and courtesy, being honest and responsible at all times
  • Adhering to high standards of integrity and ethics without wavering
  • Dressing, communicating, and conducting myself in a manner appropriate to the setting

COMMENTARY:
Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!  As we approach another celebration of coerced gratitude, I want to take a minute to share a little bit about my parents.

My dad has run the family business for my entire life, having taken over from his dad a number of years ago. He’s a petroleum jobber – they sell bulk quantities of gasoline and diesel fuel to farms, drilling rigs, industrial facilities, and so on. When I was in junior high, they also opened a convenience store. Mom is a full-time mom (a job I regard as requiring more grit and skill than both Dad’s and my own combined, especially given the two brats with whom Mom was charged with raising), and also helped in the family business in various capacities over the years.
 
A lot of kids who have self-employed parents have “built-in jobs” growing up, and I was no exception. I would work summers at the company, doing everything from cleaning bathrooms to driving trucks to bookkeeping. When customers at the store would ask Dad if he was the owner, he’d reply “chief cook and bottle washer!” That’s kind of the nature of it in such a small business – doesn’t really matter what needs to get done, it’s not going to happen unless you do it.
 
During the school year, I’d typically open the store in the mornings before school. This worked pretty well – I made enough money to have some pocket change for the weekends, and kept my afternoons free for whatever me and my boneheaded friends cooked up.  More often than not, Dad would arrive at some point during my short morning shift and help out. During that time, I learned a good deal about customer service.
 
I don’t recall us ever having a specific conversation about how we were to treat customers who came in to the store. You just figured it out by watching. Dad has a sort of uncanny reverence for both the strangers and the regulars who come through the doors every day. Friendly, certainly, but it’s more than that.  I think it’s an attitude of genuine respect, combined with the pride that comes along with being able to serve his customers well.  I have no idea how much coffee he’s given away over the years. Thank God I’m not his accountant.
 
Here’s the thing, though. Dad’s a pretty opinionated guy. You’d better know what you’re taking on if you challenge his principles, and he isn’t easily swayed. He and I have butted heads over politics, spirituality, and pretty much all the heavy stuff for eons now, and any time we’ve ever bickered I think we both walked away convinced we were more in the right than we were before we started. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
 
And I sure as hell know that he wouldn’t see eye to eye with every one of those strangers that comes in to the store.  It’s in small-town Oklahoma, yet it sees a remarkable diversity of folks over the course of any given day – all ages, ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic levels, you name it. Yet there it is - respect. Courtesy. (Check out the bullets up there – we’re getting there, I promise!)
 
So on this Thanksgiving, my answer for the “let’s go around the table and say what we’re thankful for!” routine is a father who taught me – by example – that in a professional setting your obligation is to be respectful and kind, even when you may come into contact with folks who have wildly different perspectives and motivations than your own. 
 
For me, though, there’s an odd by-product to putting this principle in practice: I don’t always pick up on situations created by people who don’t approach professional relationships in the same way. So about the time I decide that I have basically no remaining naiveté, I find myself humored by how I’m shocked by violations of human decency that I never would have fathomed. And they’ve happened in our little E-rate world. Recently.
 
So here are a couple of suggestions I have for promoting greater professionalism, specifically with respect to “treating others with respect and courtesy.”
  • If you’re attending a training session, it’s okay to assume that a) those conducting the training are motivated, at least in part, by being helpful to their attendees; and, b) you aren’t under any obligation to agree with everything that is presented. But you know what isn’t okay? This thing where the presenter makes a statement or answers a question and then there are little isolated pockets of “GASP! whisperwhisperwhispermaybesomepointingwhisperchucklewhisper” from various pockets of the room. As we were leaving the USAC training, I warned told John that if the audience at one of my seminars was as disrespectful as the USAC’s was at times, I’d happily send them on their way. 
     
  • Also, ask questions!  As a seasoned presenter, I welcome it – questions let us go off road from familiar material and hopefully allow everyone to come to a better understanding. Just remember that an invitation for questions is rarely an invitation to argue.  So if you want to take the floor during Q&A and lead off with “um, this isn’t a question so much as a comment…” JUST DON’T.  We’ve asked for questions – respect your role as a guest and share your comments with me offline. I won’t bite, I promise.
     
  • And this one… well, I just would have thought that this goes without saying. It is patently unprofessional to pry into sensitive areas of your professional acquaintances’ personal lives. Seriously. Your work contemporaries’ religions, romantic relationships, and family lives are none of your business unless they choose to share with you first. If you are itching for some drama, go watch an episode of Grey’s Anatomy or start up a casual conversation about gun laws at the Thanksgiving table with your family. But leave that other junk out of your professional interactions.
     
  • Finally, uninvited physical contact isn’t just unprofessional, it’s abhorrent. If you can’t conduct yourself in public in a way that prevents others from feeling violated or degraded, you need professional help.
I’ve struggled with this missive for a while now, in part because I’ve been so taken aback by the behavior I’ve encountered that it’s taken a while to process, but also because I’m not your mom, your therapist, or your spiritual advisor. But as we were talking about it over dinner last night, Nathan said something that I thought was pretty profound. “You only get one reputation,” he said. “I’d rather try to maintain a good one than fix a bad one.” And that’s it, I suppose. You either have enough respect in yourself to foster a reputation of which you can be proud, or you don’t. This is a niche industry – people talk, and people observe. Know how you represent yourself, and know how you are represented.
 
Now, lest you think that I have the nerve to waggle my finger at you for 1,200 words and then go along my merry way, know I’m committed to sharing my own failures of professionalism. This article, by conservative estimate, is being submitted around a month late. On no fewer than four occasions I’ve promised to turn it in by a deadline which I allowed to pass right by without notifying anyone. It’s caused logistics issues for our site content and newsletters, and it is a direct result of my unprofessionalism. (I’m sorry, Alfred. At least this wasn’t the article about Timeliness?)
 
Be thankful for the times in your life you’ve been treated with respect. Be brave in the times of your life when you aren’t. Be committed to showing others the respect you deserve. Happy Thanksgiving!
 
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Key Words and Phrases
Exhibiting courteous behavior; Conscientious manners; Technical prowess; Expert; Ethical standards; Trained; Experienced; Authority.

Opposite Terms
Amateur; Inexperienced; Dabbler; Non-expert.

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