"Cool, Cool", "Awesome", and "My Bad" ... Where Has Professionalism Go

On a training phone call recently I sat with a business associate to learn about a new product. The trainer said the word "cool" as a response so frequently that I had a hard time focusing on content and a harder time considering her a credible instructor. As we're listening, I passed my colleague a note that said "train on "cool" - meaning someone needed to sit with this gal and educate her on proper business speak. This is not the first time I've listened to folks on the phone answer with "my bad", "awesome", "sweet", and "cool". I know am forgetting others, I'm old.

When the call ended my colleague laughed and said all the employees at this company (the one we were on the phone with) are Millennials. They have a fun open air Google type office, bring their dogs to work, and live on environmentally sustainable everything.

The gal on the phone was getting a pass for being unprofessional due to her Millennial branding!

My post today is not meant to pick on youngsters. I do not necessarily think it is youth or generational branding that lends to unprofessional behavior, it is often just lack of experience in a professional setting and doing what the 'norm' was in their previous workplace culture. I see unprofessional behavior from old and young alike and it is not always verbal.

We all have a generation we belong to. I am a Gen X'er. I still love Duran Duran and cringe at my big 80's hair pictures. I started working in high school and was quickly schooled in the workplace as to my expected behavior and interactions with customers. I can not count the times as a teenager I was told I needed to talk less in the workplace!

I love working with every generation. I count on the teenagers to remind me about the joys of being young and carefree, the 20 somethings to keep me current with slang and bask in the excitement of finding their place in the workforce, the 30 somethings I often admire as they move into navigating career and family. I can joke with the 40 somethings since I just turned 50 as we remember many of the same challenges growing up. I find of course I still have so much to learn when I work with generations beyond my years.

I will continue to train my "old school" ways and strive to teach every generation of the work force to use timeless professionalism in both word and deed. Here's the thing - absolutely no one shifted culture for me, and "gag me with a spoon", "gnarly" or "take a chill pill" would not have been tolerated as an answer to a client. I was never allowed to have food or drink at a front desk, chew gum, or dress in wrinkled clothes.

I have had the pleasure of watching a young gal blossom as a receptionist through gentle training and explanation that our casual way with each other is often times not appropriate with clients. Saying "I made a mistake, one moment while I correct the invoice", is much more pleasant than, "Ugh, my bad. Hang on." She is delightfully fun and bubbly away from the desk and has learned to channel that into a professional demeanor - clients enjoy her enthusiasm and find her a credible source of information.

One quick step further; I feel the same way about using terms like sweetie, sugar, honey, and dear while speaking to clients or business associates - it is just not professional. I also think hair should be neat, uniforms wrinkle-free and scrub pants that are too long should hemmed.

If your practice is to be seen as a highly competent, highly professional organization the verbiage used and image your staff presents is an indicator of that level. Have fun, joke, and revel in each other during the work day but switch channels for your clients to make the best impression of your practice.

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