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The Curse of Professionalism in Your Business


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Have you ever received (or written) an email like this one?

"Thank you for your correspondence. We appreciate your desire to contact us, and someone will get back to you shortly."

Kinda cold and stale, eh? I'm used to seeing things like this from corporations, and from the back of our refrigerator, but how about us teensy business folks?

You don't want to sound like an automaton, but you also don't want to be inappropriately familiar, or sloppy. And, of course, there's that thought going on in the back of your head: 'Do I sound unprofessional?'

Professionalism is a good thing, except that what passes for professionalism in the business world, really isn't. It's more like zombie-ism.

Where Did Corporate-Speak Come From?

Professionalism is defined by the Oxford American Dictionary as "the competence or skill expected of a professional."

Notice that the definition only refers to "competence or skill." Nowhere in the definition does it say that you have to starch your shirt, speak in multi-syllabic gobbledy-gook, or maintain a robotic-like unemotional composure in your writing and speaking.

Here's what I think happened to professionalism: As businesses changed from primarily sole proprietor craftsmen to larger and larger corporations, it became less and less likely that anyone you spoke to at a business had any real decision-making power at all. And yet, they still had responsibility for results.

When someone is responsible to create results, but doesn't have the power to make decisions, what happens? Well, often someone feels nervous about their job security. And so they play it safe.

Playing it safe in this instance means hiding by creating as much distance as possible between them and the situation. And thus good, old-fashioned politeness turns into: "Please excuse our situation, we are endeavouring to respond in as rapid a fashion as possible." Ugh! Who talks like that?

Perfection is a Quality of the Divine.

Here's the obscure, unnamed hope driving the drivel: "If I handle this perfectly, there won't be any problems, and it will all work out okay."

Unfortunately, that's a myth. True perfection belongs only to Source. Although our hearts, as doorways to the Divine, can swim in that beauty and perfection, we can't really express perfection. Which is actually a good thing.

Your clients do want your Divinity. But, what enables them to access it is your humanity. Your imperfect, vulnerable, quirky, lovable self.

Be Yourself, Gosh Darn-It!

Listen, it may sound trite, but I'll say it anyway: Be you! Bring in your sense of humor, your zaniness, your vulnerability. Show up as a human being with a heart in your communication, and your clients, readers, customers and anyone else who comes 'round your business will come to know you. And as they know you, they will love you.

If instead you hide behind a so-called "professional" demeanor, they wonít ever get a chance to know you, and so they wonít get a chance to trust you. And if they donít come to connect with your heart, then youíre just another whatever you are, and your sacred, beautiful gift of a business is reduced to just another commodity, and a less viable one at that.

Be yourself and people will come to trust you and risk stepping in with you. Then you and your business will thrive.

It can be a little intimidating, I admit, to think about letting your hair down, kicking off your shoes, and doing the boogie-woogie with the folks who show up. So let's take it one step at a time.

Keys to Doing the Boogie-Woogie.

Match the situation with the mood.

If it's an apology email, think about how whatever mistake you made is affecting the other person. For minor mistakes, a little bit of self-deprecating humor can help. For big mistakes, humor might sound flippant, and so going with empathy might be better.

But, either way, speak human. If you made the same kind of mistake with a friend, what would you say to her?

"Wow. I totally goofed this up, and I feel miserable about it. Here's what I want to do to make it up to you."

That sounds a little more natural, at least for me. How would you say it?

How sloppy is too sloppy?

If you get too chummy you risk TMI- too much information, as when one business owner whom I hardly knew shared some pretty deep stuff about their personal life, and I felt uncomfortable.

Remember that by cracking the professional wall you are trying to build trust and connection with people. So, if you're thinking of sharing personal information, spend a few moments in your heart and see it from their perspective. Will sharing help or hinder the connection?

Something like this statement is taking attention from the listener: "Hey, I had a goiter removed last September, wanna see it?" It's not creating empathy, it's asking the listener to participate in the speaker's experience..

On the other side, people have come to Heart of Business asking about: "How can I handle a business when I'm struggling with a chronic illness?"

Then, I'll usually share that my wife struggled with a chronic illness for years (she's pretty much fully recovered now, thank God), and so I know first-hand how a chronic illness can affect a family business. This builds trust that I actually do 'get it'- I share the story so I can participate in their experience.

Sometimes you do walk a line, and yet vulnerability, humor, and personality make such a big difference. Risk a little. Take some chances. I think youíll be surprised at how much fun your business can be, and how much your clients will love you once you let go of being some robotic vision of "professional."

The best to you and your business,

Mark Silver

About the Author

Mark Silver is the author of Unveiling the Heart of Your Business: How Money, Marketing and Sales can Deepen Your Heart, Heal the World, and Still Add to Your Bottom Line. He has helped hundreds of small business owners around the globe succeed in business without losing their hearts. Get three free chapters of the book online:

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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2008-09-07 20:24:15 in Personal Articles

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