Professionalism & etiquette


In it’s simplest definition, “professional” means “appropriate to the occasion.” Etiquette has the same definition.


Professionalism communicates respect. It is communicated in the way you present yourself – the way you carry yourself and interact with others, whether one-on-one or one to a multitude. It is communicated through social courtesies and good manners.

Both professionalism and etiquette are exuded through both non-verbals and verbals.  Even through social media, we are presenting ourselves as professionals...or not.

We say someone is a professional if he or she has integrity and a strong work ethic. We also use this term to define someone as credentialed, or as an expert in a field. And finally, professionalism is a term individuals (and businesses) seek to infuse into their brand from the early stages, whether they’ve had time to become experts or build reputations of integrity or not.


Sometimes professionalism is best understood by what it is not. We know what unprofessional behavior looks like. It’s under-handed, dirty, dishonest, disrespectful.

So it stands to reason that professionalism is above-board, clean, honest, and respectful. Professionalism, integrity, and a strong work ethic are like three sides of the same triangle.

Your ethic – your work ethic, your moral compass, your integrity – is the more true reflection of your character. The way you interact with others and handle yourself over time will mark your behavior as professional or unprofessional.

Again, professionalism and etiquette both mean “appropriate to the occasion.”

A person’s sense of what is appropriate stems from values and education. These can can vary. If you want to make a good impression on people who have the power to help you and make your career aspirations come true, you must understand what their definitions of appropriate are, and not rely solely on your own.

Many of today’s employers bemoan what they consider to be a lack of strong work ethic among young people. Here are three paradoxes that Tim Elmore, of Growing Leaders, says are characteristic of millenials: they are generous, yet self-absorbed; they are visionary, yet vacillating, and their orientation is high achieving, yet high maintenance.


These qualities – self-absorption, vacillation (indecisiveness), and high maintenance – together with a high degree of distraction (continual need to check phones and Facebook and post to social media outlets) have led a growing number of older workers to conclude that many young people have a low work ethic.


If you want to make a good impression in the work place, learn how older generations define integrity and a strong work ethic, and adjust your behavior accordingly. Be reliable. Keep your word. Realize that “on time” means early. Don’t try to change the rules. Focus on the work you’re doing for your employer while you’re on the clock. Seek to make your employer’s workload easier, not harder.

The key to getting hired for new jobs, gaining mentors, and being promoted is to make your employer’s life easier. You make your employer's life easier by making them look good.


The term “professional” is also a stamp of credibility.

Credibility matters. It’s your ethos.


See Andrew Dlugan's article: Ethos, Pathos, Logos: 3 pillars of public speaking about Aristotle's Elements of Persuasion


Credibility is the reason we listen to people, the reason we hire them, the reason we like to work with them. It is the value we expect them to add.

To call someone a professional implies that they are an expert in their field. Professional athletes are the elite set – the ones paid big. They can do things the average person can’t.

Many a professional athlete has behaved unprofessionally. They may have shown enviable expertise on the court or field, but either during the match or after the game they fell short of high behavioral standards expected of their influential role.

Jim Kouzes, co-author of The Leadership Challenge, says in a Leading at Google address on YouTube that to achieve expert status takes 10,000 hours of practice over 10 years. These numbers originated from an ongoing study at a university in Miami. Malcolm Gladwell also talks about this in his book, The Outliers.

This is an average of 2.7 hours a day. There is no fast track to expert status. You can’t practice longer hours each day and achieve it faster.

The anything…put time into training and learning.

Professional athletes, musicians, writers, etc. who are paid the highest and considered the best in their field, have put in the time to get to that level. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll get there.

Personal Brand

Finally, one of the easiest and earliest things a young person can do to be viewed as a professional is to simply look and act the part.

Be intentional about it. Consider the clothes you wear and how you wear them. Consider your grooming choices. Consider your posture and nonverbal language.

The Bible says even a child is known by his reputation (Proverbs 20:11). You are building a reputation through your actions. This include your manners (etiquette) and your appearance.

The story of Ruth is a powerful testament to reputation. When Boaz saw her working in the field, he said, “Who is that woman?” Someone answered, “Ruth. Naomi’s daughter-in-law.” He’d heard of her. He’d heard of her loyalty and dedication. And as a result of her good name, he told his workers to treat her kindly. It led to her becoming his wife.


Our reputation can precede us, live beyond us, and linger after we are gone. So it pays to be conscientious of it and intentional about it.

When you’re intentional about your personal brand, it can ensure that the first impression others have of you is the one you want them to have. First impressions are incredibly accurate, probably because in the earliest days of survival, we had to quickly determine if new people we encountered were friends or foes.

Mila Grigg, local owner of MODA Image & Brand Consulting, says that your clothes, your jewelry, your purse, your shoes, your facial hair, your tie, your socks, and your posture are all talking. Are they saying what you want them to?


Want more clout? Stand up straight (US News)

Personal branding and impression management can seem shallow and manipulative. Character is the real you, not the clothes you wear.

But when a stranger meets you for the first time, they will make assumptions about your character based on what is most quickly evident to them – your appearance, your word choices, and the way you carry yourself.


Social Media

In today's world, social media is often how we form our first impressions of others. So present yourself professionally through your social media content (quality photographs, correct grammar, nothing you would be ashamed for your grandmother or a potential employer to see).

Recruiters will search out your LinkedIn profile and your Twitter, Instagram and Facebook contributions. If it’s your habit to be crass, rude, risqué, or critical of products, services, companies, or others’ opinions, none of this will bode well for you in the job search.

It's a better career strategy to be classy and professional in every post. Share positive, insightful information that benefits others.


Outer packaging doesn’t always represent the quality of the product inside, but outer packaging has a lot to do with the perceived quality of the product inside, and has an impact on how well the product sells. The same is true for you, as a job candidate.

Dress and appearance include your clothing, hairstyle, jewelry and accessory choices, even your cologne, deodorant, and makeup. It is how you look, head-to-toe. It includes the intangible…posture and eye contact. It is the message you send about yourself without uttering a word.

You wear it all. The impression you make inspires confidence and promises competence, or not. When you dress and groom yourself in a way that makes you feel confident, that confidence shows.

Know the definitions of "business professional" and "business casual."

Business professional means a suit, conservative grooming and accessories, and modest hemlines and necklines. Professional clothing need not be expensive, but it should fit you well and it should be in style.


Business casual means dress slacks/skirts paired with collared shirts (men) or workplace appropriate blouses (women). It may or may not include jeans depending on the industry or company. Jackets, ties, pocket squares are always a nice touch, but may not be necessary for business casual.


Some companies have stricter expectations on things like shoes and sleeveless blouses than others.


(Interesting note: shoes get noticed. Buy the best, most stylish shoes you can afford.) Bottom line? Respect company dress policies and dress for the job you want.



Dorothea Johnson, founder of the Protocol School of Washington, writes:

“Etiquette used to mean ‘keep off the grass.’ When Louis XIV’s gardener at Versailles discovered that the aristocrats were trampling through his gardens, he put up signs, or étiquets, to warn them off….

Gradually, the meaning of etiquette was expanded to include the ticket to court functions that listed the rules of where to stand and what to do. Today, I tell my students that good etiquette is, indeed, your ‘ticket.’”


If you don’t have a good basic understanding of etiquette in these areas (or others), you owe it to yourself to do some additional research on the topic.

Emily Post website

The Etiquette Guy, Jay Remer website

The Art of Manliness, has some great style & grooming tips



BMW: bread, meal, water. Your bread plate is to the left of your meal; your water glass to the right.


Pass food counter-clockwise (to the right).


Pass the salt and pepper together. (They are married.)


Scoop soup to the back of the bowl.


Place your napkin in your chair when you’re coming back, and to the left of your plate when you’re finished.


Set fork and knife in the 10-4 position when done. (Cross them when resting.)


Keep all personal items (purses, phones, notebooks, elbows) off the table.


Top 10 dinner etiquette rules (Own the Dollar)




Your clothing choices communicate respect, for both yourself and others. Dress appropriately for church, funerals, weddings, black-tie events, etc. If an invitation says “Business Professional” wear a suit and tie.




This is a request for a response whether you’re attending or not. Let planners know how to plan.


Social Introductions


Introduce the lower ranking to the higher ranking. Shake hands web to web, solid but not crushing.




In meetings, put your phone away. It’s rude for you to check it while someone else is talking.


If you’re on your phone while walking down a hallway or sidewalk and you pass someone, acknowledge them in some way – lift a hand or your head – smile at the very least.


Never be on your phone in a restroom where others are present.



It’s important to be responsive to others’ emails…to acknowledge them.


Click here for more on email tips.



Don’t hide behind texts or Facebook in dating relationships. Don’t break up that way. Have the courage to have those conversations face-to-face. Treat others the way you want to be treated.



Label your food in the pantry and fridge. Don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink. Don’t drive others’ crazy with the movies you watch, the friends you invite over, your smelly pet whose litter box you infrequently change, or the music you listen to.

Work Cubicles


Respect those around you by not having loud personal conversations where they can hear. Keep your area clean and professional.



Many offices have dress codes, smoking policies, personal cell phone and computer use policies, and in-company dating policies. Don’t make someone in HR have to have an awkward conversation with you.


Formal Occasions


Respect the requested attire. RSVP. Show up on time. And don’t be the last to leave.


Sporting Events


Don’t be obnoxiously loud, offensive, or spill your soda or beer on the people around you. Don’t block their view.


Movie Theaters 


Stop checking your phone during the movie!




Know what appropriate tipping expectations are, and tip accordingly. In the U.S., people who provide ongoing customer service (hair stylist, local barista, etc.) depend on tips to supplement their regular pay.


Tipping expectations in other countries may differ.


The new rules of tipping (Reader's Digest)

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