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How to be more professional at work

Last updated on: February 17, 2011 12:47 IST

How to be more professional at work

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Suraj Anand Mumbai

According to a particular alumnus of a premier business school in the United States, Asian students were advised, during an etiquette class, not to order salads with iceberg lettuce during business meetings in America or Europe. The suggestion was to order freshly cut fruit or skip the salad altogether.

The reason for this was that since green vegetables are not a staple food in Asian countries, they may come across as clumsy while trying to eat it. As freshers enter the workplace, they may be catapulted into tricky situations like this.

Tapas Majumdar, General Manager, Human Resources, Cox and Kings, recounts how they still pull the leg of a young employee because she referred to all her seniors as 'sir'. "At Cox and Kings, we follow the first name culture and things are pretty relaxed, so much so that we barge into cubicles sometimes without knocking," says Tapas.

Some companies prescribe a code of conduct for its employees while others don't. So, we got professionals to share what worked for them in such situations.

Click on NEXT to read on...


Photographs: Rediff Archives
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Icebreaker at a meeting

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Every now and then, important meetings give the 24-year-old Siddhesh Gawde from Mumbai the jitters. "I tend to freeze and don't know what to say, especially if I am meeting the CEO. I usually wait for others to speak first," he confesses.

He suggests listening to what is being discussed and then asking clarifications to break the ice.

But Balu Pandian, former corporate director and chairman of Brookfield High School, Bangalore, feels that being silent, waiting for things to pan out in a meeting is not always ideal. "At meetings, give an overview of your responsibilities, enquire about others. This gives all a chance to participate," says Balu, Former Corporate Director, Brookfield High School.

Balu's suggestions:
Introduce yourself the right away and seek introductions from others. People with initiative are admired.

Give a quick overview of your work responsibilities and enquire about others in the meeting. This gives everyone a chance to participate and open up.

Ask a few questions based on their answers. This indicates that you are eager to learn more about their area of work, and can open channels of addressing senior colleagues.

Ask people how they would like to be addressed. For example: 'Hi Shilpa; is it okay if I call you that?'

Be confident while you speak to your senior colleagues.


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Phone calls

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Bibin Verghese, 25, works in the presales department at Mobikon Technologies, a web solutions provider to hospitality businesses in Pune. He spends more than half of his day interacting with potential customers, most of whom he speaks to for the first time.

The MBA student from Singhad Business School, Pune says, "There was this one instance where I completely went blank while talking to the CEO of a hotel and had to simply hang up abruptly. I was so nervous and conscious of the fact that I was talking to a CEO." Lucky for him, the company didn't lose the client.

Tapas advises emphatically, "Do not be casual on the phone, even if the other person is. Maintain some distance, simply because you don't know the other person at all."

Sunder Ramachandran, Managing Partner, WCH Training solutions, a New Delhi-based training company says a bit of planning before a first phone call can help.

Sunder's suggestions:
Open the call with a standard professional greeting like a 'Good Morning' depending on the time of the day and move on to introducing yourself.

  • Ask if it is a good time to talk.
  • Be as direct as possible and don't beat around the bush; small talk can be an irritant.
  • Allow the other person plenty of time to respond and use prompt words such as 'I see' and 'really' as sincerely as possible.
  • Don't repeat the name of the person too many time, three times every eight to 10 minutes is good enough.
  • Keep conversation brief.

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Lunch time manners

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Lunch time is a good time to find out more about the interests of your colleagues, says Shipra. People usually tend to drop their guard in the cafeteria but there are some dos and don'ts here as well.

"It is natural to form groups, especially in a cafeteria. But you never know when groups change, so by forming groups don't form barriers," advises Tapas.

More suggestions:

  • Since groups are inevitable, it's a good idea to have lunch with different groups rather than sticking to the same clique, everyday. You will get to know more people and will not be viewed as "clannish".
  • When in the presence of one group don't speak ill of a person in another group. In fact, try not to comment on a third person in his or her absence.
  • Try not to carry on any conversations from the cafeteria to the workplace but discussing work while at lunch is not a bad idea.
Finally Shipra adds, "A little caution and thought in the manner in which you interact at work will definitely benefit you professionally."

Say NO to these!

A. Speaking in your mother tongue in front of people who don't follow your language: It is considered extremely rude to speak in a language your colleague, co-worker or guest does not understand. A common mistake, it can reflect poorly on your company's culture. The conversation must always be in the official language even when one is on the office premises or while entertaining official guests after office hours.

B. Using your official email ID to send colleagues a personal e-mail/forward: companies have strict policies that govern its usage. You could be pulled up for an off the cuff remark or a poor joke that is in bad taste.

C. Vulgar banter among colleagues you consider as friends in office: When in office or in official circles you are representing your company and what you say will be decoded as your company's stated position. A careless remark can be held against you, as people do take offence.

Photographs: Uttam Ghosh
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