Professional Demeanor in the Corporate Workplace

Published: Mar 10, 2009

Topics: Workplace Issues  
Though you'll spend as much or more time with your co-workers as you will with family and friends, remember that your co-workers are not your family. To thrive in the corporate world, you'll need to keep your game face on at all times.


  • Exude calm and confidence. Crises are inevitable. When things go bad, you should strive to be remembered as the calm person in the room. Think about it -- would you rather have a teammate who can push through a crisis or one who freaks out? (Women are often stereotyped as being overly emotional, so keeping calm is even more important for them.)
  • Go the extra mile as early as possible. What separates you from any other newcomer at your company? If you simply do an adequate job, few people will remember you. If you do a superior job early on, your co-workers will think of you as a star and be much more forgiving of any later lapses.

    IMPORTANT: Distinguish between volunteering for good opportunities to shine versus tedious or futile missions. There will be opportunities for you to volunteer for different administrative committees in your office. If the committee is convening to plan a big event or execute a structural transition, the extra duties on top of your normal job are worth the chance to work with senior executives or colleagues from other departments you dont usually meet. But if the need is strictly administrative with lots of work and no glory, it may not be worth your time to participate. Your good work moving files over the weekend will be quickly forgotten.

    In particular, do not volunteer for futile missions with lots of obstacles. The high risk of failure is not worth the small chance to be a hero. Once, a Wall Street analyst offered to hand deliver a bid proposal due at a specific hour in New Jersey. The bid was finished late, and traffic between New York and New Jersey prevented the guy from delivering the package on time. He was blamed by his department for disqualifying them from the deal, and wasting all of their work on the proposal. There was no reason for an analyst to deliver the bid in the first place; a courier would have been the obvious solution. Instead, the analyst created an opportunity to fail, and did.

  • Maintain focus. In the midst of a project crisis, looming deadline, or late hour, it is easy to cut corners and lower your standards of scrutiny. These stressful moments are exactly when you should triple-check your work to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. If you screw up, "I was stressed out" won't cut it as an excuse.
  • Be positive. Attitude is everything. You make a choice to have a good attitude or a bad attitude. Your choice will affect your professionalism, your colleagues' work environment and your career development. Having a bad attitude about a situation you can't or won't change wastes your energy and negatively impacts your personal life and emotional health.
  • Maintain a sense of humor. A sense of humor will be your best resource for many situations. Whether you are working late, caught in an uncomfortable situation or trying to be memorable when networking with senior executives, a sense of humor is absolutely essential for defusing a tense moment, releasing stress and generally being a likable person. Your team will appreciate someone who can laugh at 4 a.m. when the copier jams for the tenth time and you still have five reports to reproduce. But don't go overboard, by telling inappropriate jokes or playing annoying pranks.
  • Be accountable. Take full ownership of your work. If you are assigned a project, be prepared to be responsible for the successes and the failures. Don't pass the buck. Always share credit publicly for successes, and never deflect blame on others for failures. Nobody -- client, managers, teammates, peers, subordinates -- will like or respect you if you do.
  • Be humble. If you consistently deliver top quality work, you will get the kudos you deserve without resorting to self-promotion. Sharing the credit will win you loyalty points with both your co-workers and your superiors.


  • Harbor a grudge. It is extremely unlikely that the person you are holding the grudge against is dwelling on the same issue, so you're hurting yourself for no reason. Under no circumstances should you hold a grudge on behalf of someone else!
  • Lose your temper. Unless you are a senior executive, there's really no way you can get away with throwing a tantrum or yelling at someone. You may get a reputation as an "angry" person, and if you lose your temper with a client, you might even be fired.
  • Reveal your insecurities. You don't have to be great at everything at work. As long as you can get your work done, nobody needs to know what you think your weak areas are.
  • Complain excessively. Change your situation or accept it. A little venting here and there in strict confidence to close friends is normal, but complaining openly and excessively, seriously detracts from your focus and productivity, and produces bad results with:
    • Your colleagues. If your colleagues disagree or find you annoying, they will either complain about you to your manager or just start to avoid you. Even if they agree and chime in, you will fuel each other's negativity.
    • Your manager. The first few times you complain to your manager, your manager will most likely try to accommodate you. However, if you consistently complain, your manager will probably write you off as a troublemaker. This is especially true if you are complaining about the manager herself!