Staying professional in an unprofessional environment is one of the hardest things to do. On one hand, you know the importance of being professional. But on the other hand, the unprofessional actions of your boss or coworkers can rub off on you. And unfortunately, this can affect your overall productivity and your reputation.
Although it’s challenging to remain professional when those around you act unprofessionally, it’s not impossible. Here’s a look at eight ways to maintain your professionalism.
1. Don't Respond in Kind
If you work in an unprofessional environment, your boss might allow cursing, abusive speech, and your coworkers might be able to spark any type of conversation. These unprofessional coworkers might approach you in a hostile manner to discuss an issue. If you’re trying to maintain your professionalism, it’s important that you don’t respond in kind.
This doesn’t mean you should be a doormat and let people say or do whatever they want to you. It’s perfectly okay and acceptable to stand up for yourself. Just know that responding in kind can add fuel to the fire. Remain calm and tell your coworker respectfully, “Please don’t speak to me in that tone.”
Remaining calm can defuse a lot of hostile situations. If an unprofessional coworker gets loud and irate, yet you never raise your voice, he might realize that his behavior is childish, unprofessional and unnecessary. Your example can motivate him and others to modify their tone and approach others in a different manner.
2. Remove Yourself from Intense Situations
Of course, the above scenario may not work in every situation. Again, this doesn’t mean you have to sit around and listen to a coworker’s tantrum. If the situation starts to get ugly and you feel yourself losing control, step away from the situation.
After walking away, your coworker might throw jabs and accuse you of “punking out.” This is only to get a reaction out of you —don’t fall for it. Stepping away from the situation might be the only way to maintain your professionalism. If not, you might lose your temper, and your actions will be no better than your coworker’s. Once both of you have had an opportunity to calm down, approach your coworker to discuss the situation. Let him know why you stepped away, and then see if you can resolve the matter professionally.
3. Turn Gossip Into Something Positive
It can be tempting to add your two cents when coworkers gossip about others in the office. Just know that this is an unprofessional act. Gossip can seem like normal office conversation, but it can be hurtful. Not only should you avoid participating in gossip, you should be a leader and encourage others to refrain from the behavior.
There’s a subtle way to approach this. If a coworker starts talking about another person negatively, you can steer the conversation in a different direction and bring up something positive about the person. Do this enough times and others will get the hint. You can also remind coworkers that you’re all on the same team. If they have an issue with another person, it’ll be better to discuss this problem in private, squash the matter, and move on. The truth of the matter is, even if you sit silently and don’t say a word, it can appear as if you’re agreeing with what’s being said.
4. Don't Laugh at Jokes That Offend Others
It doesn’t matter how funny a joke is, if it offends someone, do not laugh. Laughter implies that you agree with the joke and accept the behavior, which can be unprofessional.
Sometimes, you may not realize a joke offended someone until later on. If this happens, immediately apologize to the person for laughing. If possible, speak with the person who made the joke and suggests that he apologizes as well. You can’t control the actions of others, but your professionalism and the way you handle these types of situations can help others realize their mistakes. The same way unprofessional behavior can rub off on you, others can learn a lot from your professionalism.
5. Don't Compromise on the Way You Dress
If your boss has a lackadaisical attitude, he might allow any type of dress —especially if the company doesn’t meet with clients or customers face-to-face. If there is customer interaction, it’s important to maintain business casual or appropriate dress at all times.
Some of your coworkers may wear extremely short skirts or revealing outfits. But if you want to remain professional, it’s important to maintain a modest mindset when choosing your attire for the day. Some of your coworkers may joke and say you dress like an old person, or they may tell you to spice up your wardrobe. Stick to your guns and don’t give in to pressure.
6. Don't Slack Off
In an unprofessional environment, your coworkers may have little respect for due dates and deadlines. They might complete tasks according to their own schedule, even if it puts the entire office behind.
Although everyone else may ignore due dates, you can maintain your professionalism by doing your part to keep everything on schedule. Missing a deadline decreases productivity for everyone, which can create more stress and chaos.
You can easily fall into a routine of ignoring deadlines if this attitude is present throughout the entire office. It’s important to do your part and make sure your work is completed on time. Your hard work and effort won’t go unnoticed. Your boss might not say so, but he’ll make a mental note of your professionalism, which can open the door to better opportunities in the future.
7. Go the Extra Mile for Customers
Many professional companies have a policy that says “the customer is always right.” And even when a customer is being unreasonable and blatantly wrong, the boss and employees maintain a professional attitude and do whatever they can to accommodate this customer.
In your office, it might be a completely different scenario. Customer and client needs are constantly put on the back burner. Your employer might provide horrible customer service, and his example may cause coworkers to care less about accommodating and helping customers. This attitude can rub off on you, but it doesn’t have to.
As a personal motto, always put a customer’s needs first. If you observe a situation where one of your coworkers speaks rudely to a customer or ignores a customer’s request, see if you can intervene and politely offer assistance. If you make the customer a priority and show the highest level of professionalism, your behavior can make up for the negative treatment received by your coworker. This can potentially improve the customer’s impression of the company.
Being professional when your boss or coworkers are acting childish and rudely can be a challenge. It’s important to never forget who you are, and you should never let the unprofessional behavior of others influence how you view your assignments and customers. If you give in and adopt their unprofessional behavior, you can develop bad habits that are hard to break. If, on the other hand, you maintain your professionalism, your coworkers can learn a lesson from you. This can motivate them to improve their behavior in the workplace.