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Work etiquette 101: How to be professional

Workplace etiquette 101

Being a professional requires a lot more than simply having all the skills needed to do the job. This is something most individuals don’t learn until later on in their careers — often after much trial and error. 

Being professional in your workplace comes with its own set of advantages. You’ll see stronger growth in your career and you’ll find that it’s much easier to network and build yourself up, too. 

If you’re looking to start your career on the right foot — or even if you’re looking to improve your career trajectory — then this guide to work etiquette 101 will be helpful.

Becoming more professional

What makes you more professional? 

Is it the hard skills? Is it the experience? Is it the clothes? Well, all of this and more.

Your professionalism will be judged from the very moment you send in your CV (or resume). This continues to the interview stage and if you get through all that, you’ll find yourself suddenly having a job. Amazing! So, what next?

When it comes to the work environment, there are certain qualities that are valued above all else. These ‘qualities’ can be within a personal or professional capacity but make you stand out positively in the workplace. We can define them as your attributes or traits, such as being reliable or being bubbly. 

While it’s true that much of these qualities come as part of the ‘package’, it’s entirely possible to work on yourself and build these characteristics from within.

Can-do attitude

People constantly say that positivity and cheer can be contagious. Unfortunately, this is also applicable to negativity. We’ll level with you. As people, our lives can be quite chaotic. There will always be many inevitable ups and downs, and dealing with those is part of living.

positive can-do attitude

In the workplace, though, things can get a little complicated. Morale is a fickle thing, and when it is adversely impacted, the negative impacts can be quite far-reaching

On this, Snap Surveys Marketing Manager Susan DeFranzo stated: “Workplace morale refers to the attitudes and opinions employees have about their jobs, and is crucial to an organization’s success. Low employee morale can hinder a business from achieving organization-wide goals, and it can also lead to low productivity, increased employee turnover, and loss of profitability.”

This is why employers value those who show a positive attitude in the workplace. Of course, this doesn’t mean all smiles and no action. Approaching any problem with optimism is more likely to yield positive results than doing so with pessimism. A ‘can-do’ attitude will take you a long way.

Avid learner

One of the most important traits amongst professionals across the globe is the value they place on learning. Employers everywhere look for individuals who have the capacity and drive to learn. There are many reasons for this.

For starters, it helps you improve your skills and knowledge, making you a greater asset. The more skills and knowledge you accumulate, the harder it is to replace you. Secondly, you will find that people who approach any task with an ‘I know best’ attitude — often refusing to listen to their peers — often face a lot of friction at their workplaces as well as their personal lives. 

Valuing continuous improvement and learning makes you a humble but vemployee and human being with a lot to offer.

Lend a hand

Have you ever been stuck on a particular task only to receive help from another person? Do you recall how that made you feel? Did you view them with more respect? Were you more receptive to their input afterwards, or perhaps more fond of them?

Help your teammates

Helpful people are a team’s strongest link because they take on a ‘no person left behind’ mindset and willingly dish out advice and help whenever they can. This doesn’t mean you need to overextend yourself and risk falling behind on your own work.

It just means that you have the opportunity to build more wholesome working relationships while also presenting as a teamplayer who cares about the wellbeing of others.

Conflict resolution

Conflict resolution is an absolute must-have skill for professionals. To put it simply, where there’s people, there’s conflict. It’s unavoidable — but it doesn’t have to be a problem. Sometimes, you’ll ruffle some feathers without ever meaning to, and that’s perfectly normal. It’s what you do after that matters most. This is where practicing patience comes in handy.

The most common areas of conflict are hurt feelings and disagreements. When such instances arise, you need to remember that you’re in a workplace. Most of fellow employees are simply your coworkers — and definitely not your therapists or family members (except for the occasional glitch in the matrix). So, how should you deal with conflict? 

  • Never lash out at them, even if they lash out at you
  • Speak politely 
  • Apologise for any misunderstandings or hurt feelings
  • Acknowledge their input 
  • Graciously disagree with a point if you must
  • Reach a compromise if possible


Honesty really is the best policy. Many companies now search for individuals who can be frank with their feedback, their own capabilities, and what is possible versus what isn’t. Additionally, employers also rely on employees to keep private information and details confidential on behalf of the company.

The more honest you are, the more trustworthy you seem, and thus, the more likely you are to receive more important projects, promotions, and recommendations. But be careful not to overdo it! There is a common misconception that ‘brutal honesty’ is always the way to go. Untrue. 

For example, your coworker doesn’t need to know you think their cakes are subpar. What your coworker does need to know is that they accidentally switched the sugar with salt. 

This also applies to the provision of ‘too much information’. Your boss doesn’t need to know the intimate details of your latest medical diagnosis, but they would most likely need to know that you’ll be taking a few days off because you have a medical emergency.

To sum it up: Keep it plain and simple, but not cruel.


You don’t need to be cocky. You need to be confident. There’s a fine line between these two. For example, if you’re cocky, you’re likely to overestimate your own abilities, but if you’re confident, you’ve correctly gauged what you can and can’t do and are satisfied and comfortable with this.

If you don’t exude confidence, you’re more likely to be overlooked. This will eventually snowball into bigger, more difficult obstacles in your career. Be strong and grounded and be comfortable with your capabilities. 

This brings us to the next key point …


Yes, it is important to know how to slap a few slides together, but by ‘presentation’, we actually mean how you physically present yourself. 

Take this into consideration. If you were to attend an interview at a company and the employer shows up in poorly-aged clothes, messy and wild hair, and then hunches over when speaking instead of looking at you, what sort of impression would they have made on you?

Now flip the roles. 

If you want to be taken seriously, you need to show them how serious you are. This can be done in many ways: 

  • Standing and sitting straight instead of hunching over
  • Wearing clean, neat clothes that suit your workplace
  • Brushing and/or styling your hair
  • Making eyecontact when addressing a person
  • Smiling genuinely

Professionals skills


When it comes to work etiquette, communication holds a lot of value — be it in meetings, when addressing clients, when writing emails, etc. If you’re not confident about your communication skills, here’s some good news: you can absolutely become better by working on it!

Here are a few things you can do to drastically improve your communication skills.

  • Listen to what the other person has to say
  • Don’t allow yourself to get distracted when communicating with others
  • Acknowledge written correspondence in a timely manner
  • Respond politely, even when you’re being confronted rudely
  • Utilise ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ liberally
  • Keep all involved parties informed on task progress and status updates as necessary
  • Make sure to follow up any verbal discussion with a written message to the other party
  • Pay attention to your body language (Nonverbal communication plays a heavy role in how people perceive you!)

Impressions matter

A lot of this guide focuses on the impression you make on others. Being ‘professional’ is, after all, not a tangible concept. Aside from what you do, what you say, how you dress, and what skills you have, it also matters that you actively show that you value the work that you do.

Simple little things can negatively impact your career — sometimes beyond repair, depending on how serious the situation is. Some major no-nos that you absolutely must avoid in order to maintain professional etiquette and develop your career are listed below.

  • Being late: Far too often, we’ve heard of individuals who don’t value their time or anyone else’s. This is a serious issue. Getting late to come to work once or twice, or joining a meeting a little late is excusable. Being consistently tardy can tarnish your reputation. As part of a team or a project, you need to be considerate about timing.


  • Making unsavoury jokes: The jokes we make with a group of our close friends may not be acceptable in the workplace. On top of that, there are certain lines we should be careful not to cross — both in our personal and professional lives. While joshing around with coworkers isn’t uncommon, you must respect boundaries and make sure you’re not overstepping any.


  • Burning bridges: Anyone who has experienced being unhappy at a job and wanting to leave could probably relate to the thought “say goodbye and never look back”. While this may be a valid feeling to hold, don’t be too hasty! You never know when a connection may come in handy. Always maintain your networks and leave your workplace on as positive a note as possible. You’ll thank yourself down the line.


  • Poor communication: A proper professional knows when to say what and how to say it. For example, if you need a coworker to do a task, be polite but firm about it. Discuss the details verbally and then send a follow-up message including the discussed details via email or any platform your organisation uses to communicate, like Slack.

This ensure that there are no misunderstandings and also to ensure there’s evidence of this communication happening. If a misunderstanding does take place, handle it with grace. Explain, don’t fuss. Provide a solution to prevent such misunderstandings in the future.

  • Mixing your work and personal life: Don’t do it. Don’t bring your personal life into the workplace and vice versa. If you’re going through a hard time, talk to your supervisor and find a solution that works for you both. Take some time off or give yourself space to handle issues.

    Learning to compartmentalise can be very hard, but it’s worth investing time and effort in — trust us. 


  • Being on the phone too much: So much of our lives are on the phone and it’s normal to want to ‘live it out’ on a daily basis — but there’s a time and place for that. Try to reduce the time you spend on your phone. For example, you can give yourself 5 minutes every hour to check your phone and response to any messages.

    Alternatively, you can finish a few tasks and then take 10-15 minutes to just relax and scroll through social media before getting back to work. Clinging to your phone during work hours gives off the impression that you either don’t care about your work or you have nothing to do — even if your schedule is packed to the brim.


  • Gossiping: This can be very dangerous. Gossiping can be harmful to everyone involved and could hurt somebody beyond more than just their feelings. Always stick to information that actually matters and avoid spreading rumours and indulging in gossip. Keep in mind, by gossiping, you also open yourself up to similar treatment — treat others the way you would like to be treated!

Final thoughts

Being professional may sound like a lot of needless work only done by the big men in suits, but it’s really not! By taking the time to improve your work etiquette, you’re setting yourself up for success. First and foremost, approach it as a winning strategy for yourself.

This is a good way to set boundaries, separate your work and home life, and make sure that you get a good, sustainable career boost and earn the respect of your colleagues and others in the industry.

It doesn’t matter if you’re just starting out or if you’ve been working for years upon years, it’s really never too late to switch it up and become a ‘professional’. 



Kahless is a writer with a special interest in sociology. He spends much of his free time travelling, reading, writing, and stopping his cats from ripping apart everything he owns. It’s advised to bring along a strong cup of coffee (3 espresso shots minimum) when approaching him.

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