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What is Your Idea of Online Professionalism?

Posted on 31 August 2012 by John Britsios

Like child-rearing and broccoli, if you ask 50 people what they consider to be the basic tenets of online professionalism, you’re likely to get 50 different answers. But it should be safe to say that professionalism is less subjective than broccoli… or even child rearing, for that matter.

Basic Decency

There ought to be at least a few basics that most people can agree upon, at least in what is euphemistically called “polite society”. For instance, here are just a few that I’d (like to) think most people would buy into:

  • Don’t attack a person’s faith;
  • Don’t make fun of their disabilities;
  • Don’t laugh at their loss of a loved one;
  • Don’t tell them how ugly you think they are.

To commit any of those faux pas would be fairly obvious departures from what most people consider to be “acceptable” behavior, and most of us would be appalled to see someone treat another that way. But there are other ways of presenting oneself inappropriately, without being directly insulting or abusive.

Inappropriate Actions

Some of those slightly less blatant methods might include:

  • Acting in a condescending manner to someone because of their race, gender or sexual orientation;
  • Deliberately ignoring someone for any of the same reasons;
  • Making sexually suggestive remarks or unwanted overtures;
  • Using vulgar or profane language in an inappropriate setting.

In limited circumstances, some of those last can be somewhat subjective, too. But since we’re talking about online professionalism, it should be obvious that we’re making some assumptions.

For instance, we’re talking about individuals that are either conducting business online or that do so at times, and are not totally incognito (which does not imply that said behaviors are acceptable, as long as nobody can identify you).

We’re also assuming that it’s not a setting among a casual group of friends, where certain behaviors might be considered forgivable because of the relationships between the parties.

And most of all, we’re assuming that an individual might reasonably expect a certain level of behavior, because of the open or public nature of that behavior.

Reasonable Expectations

So where does that leave us? We’re in a situation in which a businesslike demeanor can be expected, rather than a bunch of drinking buddies in a bar, and there’s absolutely no reason for anyone to expect to be on the receiving end of:

  • Sexual innuendos or overtures;
  • Vulgar or profane language;
  • Insults or abusive behavior;
  • Any form of discrimination.

That could mean we’re in a place of business, or possibly have business representatives calling on us, either in person or by communication.

Or it could possibly mean we’re in a gathering, where attendees expect to conduct business of some sort.

Finally, it could mean we’re watching a business presentation, such as a conference, webinar or media broadcast of some sort, where virtually anyone might be listening.

In any of those cases, it’s reasonable to not have to be subjected to any of the eight offenses listed above.

The Bottom Line

So, if you receive any of the above from someone that is not one of your drinking buddies, in any sort of environment that can’t be construed as strictly personal, there is something terribly wrong. That would include abusive emails, raunchy jokes, unwanted flirtation, discriminatory comments or actions, F-bombs during a phone conversation, conference or broadcast… the list goes on.

In short, such things are grossly unprofessional and shouldn’t be endured.

In a “no holds barred” forum or chat-room, it’s one thing – people presumable know what to expect – if they choose to stay, that’s their call. But lacking that knowledge and agreement, such things are totally inappropriate.

When a listener may be listening while he works, and his co-workers are suddenly treated to a series of F-bombs, the offense is compounded. If a listener is connected at home, and his wife or children may be within hearing distance, the situation is the same.

In such circumstances, any value that the broadcast might have had to offer may be lost, with the listener electing to skip that benefit rather than subject others to the language. And more importantly, any professional credibility that the broadcaster might hope for can be lost as well.

A Plea

Please, people – if you’re sharing any sort of content with an audience, think about that audience. If you hope to be seen as a professional, then you need to act like a professional. If you can’t do that, your own credibility will suffer for it and you may find others beginning to avoid you.

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