ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition — January 2003

In this Issue
“Remember the Titans”—The Rest of the Story
Looking Toward the Future

Ask the PowerPhrase® Expert

Life Lessons


AQP Connections
What’s Up?
The Help Desk
Out of Context
Articles in Brief
News Bites
Book Nook
January 2003 News for a Change—Home Page

NFC Index

AQP Home

Ask the PowerPhrase® Expert

In the December issue the article “Get Off the Island: Bridging the Gap at Work,” introduced News for a Change readers to Meryl Runion, a communications expert who has written the book PowerPhrases! The Perfect Words to Say It Right and Get the Results You Want. We’re pleased now to launch a column by Runion that will help you learn how to apply PowerPhrases every day.

What PowerPhrase can I use to get my staff to behave more professionally?

The PowerPhrase Expert: First, eliminate any thoughts that they are deliberately being unprofessional. Chances are very good that your staff really has no idea that you view their performance that way.

Second, be very clear about what they are saying or doing that leads you to believe they are not behaving professionally. Change happens by getting specific. Are they walking around with swizzle sticks in their mouths? Are they answering the phone by saying, “Yeah?” Are they using profanity? Exactly what are they doing that you want them to stop? Or what are they not doing that you want them to start?

Third, take an inventory of the effects of the unprofessional behavior. Have you received complaints about it? Does it affect productivity? Does it lower morale? Once again, get as specific as you possibly can.

Fourth, ask yourself how it impacts you emotionally. Are you embarrassed? Frustrated? Disappointed?

Finally, and most important, determine what you want them to do instead.

Once you have answered these questions, you have three possible approaches to communicating your concerns and expectations, as described below:

  • Option 1: If there have been complaints, you can address it from that perspective. Say, “We have a problem. There have been complaints about insert a description of the problematic behaviors. This is important because insert a description of the effects of the behaviors and your reactions to them. What can we do about it?”
  • Option 2: If there are some employees who do have high standards of professionalism, get their thoughts on the issue. Call them all into your office and ask, “What standards of professionalism do you think we should institute?” This provides staff members with higher standards an opportunity to provide input and to put peer pressure on the less professional to upgrade their standards.
  • Option 3: Simply tell staff members what they are doing that is unprofessional, what the effects of their behaviors are, and what you want them to do instead. In this case, you would say, “When you describe behaviors, I feel describe effects and reactions. What I need you to do instead is describe expectations.”

Be aware that professionalism is a subjective concept. I met a nurse in a hospital who was dressed in the old nurses’ uniform you see in the 1960s reruns. I mentioned that I hadn’t seen one of those in years. She responded, “Oh the nurses today are so unprofessional!” She thought the other nurses were unprofessional. Personally I thought she was unprofessional for bad mouthing her colleagues to a visitor. So before you address the lack of professionalism in your staff, get specific about what they are doing, what the impact is, and be sure there is a problem.

MERYL RUNION began her career by designing effectiveness measures for use by police departments all across the country. Runion has a master’s degree in the science of creative intelligence and is certified as a stress management expert. She is known as a speaker and author across the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia. You may contact her via e-mail at

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