7 ways to future-proof your professional reputation

December 1, 2015 | By Cognadev

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“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffet

We have all heard that one should absolutely never cry at work or lose our cool. Given the pressure prompted environment we work in, having an emotional meltdown in the work environment, is a fear many people have. There are however days that may push us to the end of our tether where our emotions take the upper hand. In extreme cases, our emotional expressions have ripple effects that can burn bridges, taint professional relationships and even cause legal action.

Per Frykman, the professional reputation guru from Sweden, is of the view that your reputation is the only thing that is present when you are not. Therefore, the perceived professional reputation is commonly linked to the level of respect and competence of a person and is critical to uphold. Someone who often makes excuses, misses deadlines, is unreliable, behaves in an unethical manner, and shows unpredictable emotional outbursts generally does not garner much respect from others. This may also result in others questioning their competence and ultimately impact on their professional reputation. There are a few things that can secure your professional reputation:

1. Act like an adult

It is hard to act in an appropriate manner all the time. We are after all humans with feelings, moods and built in trigger-response mechanisms. We do however have to consider what the appropriate mature response should be in order not to regret the response later on. Immature behaviour in the workplace may include (but is not limited to: temper tantrums, not sharing (plans, goals, resources), looking for attention, unhealthy competition or rivalry, whining or sulking. These behaviours may annoy others and cause them to lose respect and subsequently harm your reputation.

But what if you generally act in a professional manner without presenting any of the above, but at times have to deal with people who present this childish / immature behavior? You cannot take responsibility for the incompetence or inappropriateness of others, and should also not be tempted to retaliate in a similar fashion.

What would be the mature thing to do? Be polite, understanding, and establish clear boundaries.

It is therefore crucial to learn from one’s mistakes, be honest about your emotions, know what your emotional strengths and weaknesses are and how it influences behaviour patterns.

2. Think before you speak (or type)

There is a fine line between being assertive and being rude. We are encouraged to voice our opinions, show that we can stand up for ourselves, and not being scared to deal with conflict. However, being over-assertive one can run the risk of coming across as a bully or being too pushy.

There is an old saying that you can achieve much with a “please” and a “thank you”. It may seem simple, but speaking in a civil manner, showing respect for others, and taking time to read over an aggressive email response before you send it, could save and enhance your reputation.

It is better to balance your feelings with objective and rational considerations. In the long run it would therefore be more beneficial to your reputation if you remain professional, stick to the facts and use diplomacy.

3. Become aware of the feelings of others

Empathy has been shown to be one of the top critical attributes of successful business leaders, according to a study undertaken by Ernest Wilson (Harvard Business Review, 21 September 2015). This involves a willingness to listen, the ability to see a situation from another person’s perspective and show a genuine concern for others. A useful characteristic associated with empathy is the understanding of subtle verbal and nonverbal cues.

Communication nowadays occurs reciprocal, or in both directions. In order to maintain a reputation, one has to be in tune with the demands or needs of the audience (the client). Only empathy will assist in creating the awareness of who they are and what they need.

Empathy is particularly important in a multicultural environment and diverse markets in order to deal appropriately with clients from different backgrounds, cultures and generations.

4. Accept that you are not always right

Constantly following the motto of “my way or the highway” is not effective. One can easily create a reputation of being rigid, ‘old-school’ and inflexible. Innovative clients are not impressed by stubbornness and welcome open-minded, adaptable and resilient approaches.

Frykman stated that “the only reliable strategy in today’s ever-changing world is to constantly reinvent yourself and your business and find new ways of doing things”. He is of the view that a person always needs to be in “start-up” mode, as it will build professional reputation through expectations of accomplishments and the way you will reach them.

5. Consider the ripple effect of your actions

VW’s reputation has probably been ruined by one action: giving false information regarding their emissions. A solution may seem quick and make an impression on your client in the short term, but without considering all the stakeholders, the long term effects or the repercussion on the wider system may result in irreparable damage to your reputation.

6. Avoid passing the buck

When a person cannot take responsibility, it shows a lack of trust in their own abilities. Responding to requests in a timely fashion, preparing for meetings, and knowing your limitations are only some actions you can take to show that you are committed, trustworthy and comfortable with decision-making power. Taking accountability is a certain reputation boost.

The way you manage others can also be an indication of the type of respect that you deserve. Instead of telling people what to do and how to do it (authoritative), you can challenge others in a constructive manner, motivate them, provide clear goals and vision, and trust in their autonomy to deliver results

Furthermore, don’t shy away from conflict but deal with it in a mature manner through win-win negotiations, sound logical reasoning and sincerity.

7. Show some enthusiasm

“Lackadaisical” people are those that lack determination and usually show a half-hearted approach. The reputation of such a person would probably be negatively affected as they would also be seen as someone who promises, but cannot deliver or follow through, does not become excited about projects, and is not alert to opportunities and the changing world of work around them.

By adding enthusiasm, curiosity, willingness and action orientation to your demeanour, one can immediately enhance professional reputation. For example, before visiting a new client, do some research in preparation. Be interested in the latest trends and developments, not just in your own industry, but also in your client’s industry. Identify opportunities to learn more and be open to self-development. Going the extra mile for a client is not as difficult and may create more value than you would think. The world has become so used to poor service that people often commend outstanding service in social media and by word of mouth.

Finally, it is evident that professional reputation reaches beyond the observable presentation of a person and involves self-awareness, self-management, empathy, social responsibility, flexibility, ability to manage others, energy and motivation. These factors are the building blocks of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence can be measured by using Cognadev’s Motivational Profile (MP). Furthermore, developing your emotional intelligence through individual coaching or Emotional Intelligence training offered by Cognadev can be a certain way to future-proof your professional reputation.