I totes love to speak in slang. The only problem is that I don’t sound very profesh when I talk like this. So how can I maintain my casj (how do you spell this!?) personality but sound professional? Better yet, how can I be professional but still remain my authentic self?
I have tried following advice on managing my personal brand, or “say this not that” rhetoric, but I almost always found this comes at the expense of who I am as a person. Hiding my authentic self made me unsatisfied in my job and less engaged in my work. I had to find a way to take all of this advice and meld it into something that still allowed me to be me. In my soul searching, I found X ways to sound more professional without sacrificing any pizazz.
Know Your Audience
Knowing your audience is key in any situation on this list. You can’t play fast and loose with your reputation if you don’t know your audience. For example, I have been known to have a filthy sense of humor on occasion. Sometimes if a joke pops into my mind, I just can’t let it sit. But, sometimes you just have to let that joke go. If you are in a meeting with an important client that is known for community involvement, do not make a crack at their city. It is clearly something he/she is passionate about making your joke tasteless and hurtful.
No, this is not a sacrifice to your personality. Having personality does not include insulting others. If being yourself comes at someone else’s expense you are not only unprofessional, but you are an asshole.
Know Your Shit
Think about your favorite teacher, professor, or mentor. What qualities did you admire about them? Chances are you aren’t thinking about how they talked or what words they chose. But you are likely thinking about what you learned from this person.
If you are knowledgeable about your subject, you can share this information freely. This is called knowledge communication. Are you someone who talks with your hands? Uses slang? Or dropping the occasional f-bomb? It really isn’t that big of a deal so long as you are still communicating meaningful information in a way that others can understand. So when I tell say, “You can totes make a kickass smoothie with tofu and kale that actually tastes good and here is how….” you aren’t really focused on the slang or cursing in that sentence. You are more focused on how I make a smoothie with such nasty ingredients taste good.
Don’t Curse Too Often
You have probably been told not to curse in the workplace or that it is unprofessional to curse. In reality, swearing in the workplace can actually help build better relationships when used in a non-abusive manner. That’s because swear words are really just words. What makes them unprofessional is overuse.
Overusing any word can make you sound unprofessional. I had a coworker who used the word “leverage” constantly. Anytime I heard her use “leverage” I had to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head.
Curse words are the same. We are all adults. We aren’t offended by hearing naughty words. What really matters is overusing words or using words improperly. So long as you are using curse words correctly and not overusing them, then swearing isn’t really a big deal.
You want to be yourself at work and be respected as a professional adult? Then network. Build relationships where you demonstrate your skills and abilities. Let your talent show as often as you can and soon it won’t matter how you come across. Building these relationships will give you the freedom to be yourself.
I had a mentor explain to me once that it is like putting pennies in a jar. If I have done enough good work to make my penny jar full, then it really doesn’t matter if a few pennies spill over (I make mistakes). At the end of the day, my reputation is still solid with this person because I built that relationship.
Ignore Outdated Advice
You will notice I didn’t include several items on this list that you might expect in an article on sounding professional, such as:
- Say this or that
- Don’t use slang
- Use business terms
- Smile and nod
That is because these are quickly fading rules. As more millennials enter the workforce, the more business speak has evolved beyond the traditional. For example, you are reading an article on how to sound professional and I opened with abbreviated words and slang. Yet, here you are at the end of my post.
Moreover, companies today are beginning to realize that judging a person’s skills or talent on the way they appear or speak is a quick way to ignore truly valuable talent. For example, if you are too focused on how someone comes across, you might miss the technology genius in converse shoes who could be a game changer for your business. As time goes on, articles like this will become more and more obsolete.
Being professional does not have to mean giving up on who you are. You can be yourself and a professional at the same time by following these rules:
- Know your audience
- Know your shit
- Don’t curse too often
- Ignore outdated advice
What are your thoughts on sounding professional in the workplace? Let us know in the comments!