When I witness a lapse of professionalism in myself or others, my spirit droops like a parched plant. Whenever, during my career, I myself have said something untoward or taken the easy road, I feel I’ve let down the side, maybe like the Islanders who allowed a goal at 19:58 of the third period of a tied hockey game yesterday to lose the seventh and deciding game of their series against the Washington Capitols. It takes me a long time to recover, and the best thing I can do is own it and move on.
In the last few months, lapses in professionalism have impacted me. Each time, I felt disrespected, as I imagine being slapped in face might, had I ever been subjected to that indignity. Those experiences have prompted an examination of conscience on my own conduct as a professional. Here is my 7-point professional checklist.
1. Walk the talk.
Whatever we as professionals expect of others, we must model ourselves. In my case, as an educator, that means embed the pedagogy of most promising practice in the sessions I facilitate—the communication skills, the strategies, the philosophy. In addition, I must contribute and engage in sessions I attend, given that I appreciate those behaviors in my sessions.
2. Be prepared.
Clients’ time is precious. We need to respect and maximize it—whether our clients are students, colleagues, patients, or customers. How can we not have gathered the materials we need for a lesson, reviewed documents for a meeting, read the files, or helped to find a product?
3. Be knowledgeable.
Professionals stay current. They read, experiment, attend seminars, and assimilate research. They are open to different ways of doing things.
4. Practice the code of ethics of the profession.
a. Not all professionals do, so we must read and reread and rereread that document throughout our careers.
b. Maintain confidentiality.
c. Address any grievance with the individual concerned before talking to that person’s superiors. Communication skills make those conversations possible (see #5). Enduring tension or talking behind the person’s back out of fear of a confrontation are not options.
5. Hone communication skills.
If we are not yet confident enough in our ability to navigate through a problematic situation, we need to develop the requisite communication competencies. Can we use paraphrase? Mediational questions? Tentative and neutral language? The Crucial Conversations program is a great resource to build know-how in this critical area.
6. Be “unfreakable”.
Keep a calm, steady demeanor, and smile through the rough waters. Rise above the turbulence, in the words of Liz Prather (How to Be a Teacher Leader, April 27, 2015). Marsha Sinetar writes that “unfreakability,” a term coined by Timothy Gallwey in The Inner Game of Tennis, to describe the ability to maintain a clear head in the midst of challenges, as one of the keys to developing a twenty-first century mind. The idea is to “enjoy the climb,” enjoy the challenge that problem-solving requires.
7. Deflect credit.
Professionals are the last to take credit for any accomplishments. They acknowledge their role as part of a team.
The incidents I experienced are a great reminder for me, to reflect on my own behavior, to refer to my checklist, and to keep myself honest as a professional.