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What does it mean to be "professional"?

gtpeach

Cyburbian
Messages
1,936
Points
14
So... I'm on a roll right now. I made a mistake when answering a question at our last Board meeting. I got two of the planning commission meetings mixed up (the requests were in the same small area) and responded with an incorrect answer. A board member corrected me. I realized it was awkward, thanked him for the correction, and made some plans on how I could adjust in the future - namely making sure I read over the Planning Commission minutes a day or two prior to the Board meetings in the future to refresh my memory.

Apparently this started a whole avalanche of issues initiated by the County Administrator that in general, I lack "professionalism" when addressing the Board. I've been doing this for eight years, and I've never gotten ANY feedback on any of my Board presentations, so this has come as a complete shock to me. I asked my boss if he had any suggestions on my presentation style, but he didn't have any specific suggestions for me. In general, I'm not a formal person. It's not that I don't take my job seriously, but that's not really my style. But I do try to be professional and respectful. I was criticized from the way I deliver my presentations to the way I dress. I'm the only person that makes regular presentations at the Board meetings outside of the administration, and I'm also not a department head that is privy to direct communication with the County Administrator when this kind of expectation is communicated. But I do dress fairly nicely for the meetings - this past meeting, I was wearing dark pants and a linen jacket. I feel like a large part of this is that dress codes are a little more challenging for women to interpret than men.

I also feel like since there was recently a rumor spread that I was unhappy at my job and specifically with my boss (no idea where that started), that this impression may be coloring the perception that I don't care about doing a good job.

My boss was really kind when addressing it with me. Basically, he said that he understood it was a mistake and something that could be fixed, but that I needed to make sure I worked on making improvements. But it's hard to know what to improve without more specific feedback. The mistakes are easily correctable, but not sure about the others.

So... when you hear the word "professional," what comes to mind? If you were told to simply "be more professional," what would you specifically work on?
 

RandomPlanner

Cyburbian
Messages
1,499
Points
21
Hmmm, that's a tough one. Constructive criticism is good; the problem is when it's not constructive. How do I know what to fix if you're not giving me specific examples? Being vague just doesn't help.

That being said, if I were told to simply "be more professional", I would work on a few things:
-- make sure to wear a blazer, earrings, and nice shoes every day (perhaps Friday as the exception but only if no meetings were scheduled)*
-- make sure my folders were organized for every conversation/ meeting and I read through them prior to meetings
-- sit up straight in all meetings
-- take notes

*I don't know why I feel more professional with earrings in. And if a man suggested that, I'm sure I would be offended. But when I don't wear them, I do feel much more casual.

Good luck and don't get too discouraged, Peach. If you've never received feedback any Board presentation in eight years, you're obviously doing it right. It sounds like there's not much else to discuss lately and they've just decided to pick on you for the moment.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
13,229
Points
33
I'm not sure and of course you have to remember "professional" is different depending on where you live. The East might think nothing less than a tux would be professional where California is just happy if you're wearing clothes. I'd start with dress code just because it's the easiest to address. If your a man, wear a suit. I'm not so professional here, but I still wear a collared shirt and slacks. You're right, it's harder for women. I would see what other women wear and go from there. If not, slacks, a nice blouse, and a jacket work. The hard part of "professional" presentations to me is the manners, pattern of speech, etc. I'm guessing I'm more like you. Laid back and casual and not too uptight. You just have to figure out what the board wants. Can you get away with casual reports like I do? Here's the project, here are the problems, here are the solutions. or do they want the formal, here's the lot and here's the rules and leave your opinion out of it or make your opinion purely professional sounding. It's a hard thing to figure out.
 

gtpeach

Cyburbian
Messages
1,936
Points
14
I do think it's more specific to when I address the Board than in a normal day to day environment, but it wouldn't hurt to step up my game regardless. The dress code here is pretty laid back. No blue jeans, but men often get away with wearing tennis shoes, and any other color jeans are permissible by our dress code.

i don't think it's an issue with the format of the staff report. I rarely insert personal recommendations into the staff reports to the Board. Usually I'm just communicating the recommendation from the Planning Commission. The only thing I can think of is that sometimes I make comments that maybe aren't strictly formal. At this last meeting, I had a rough sketch showing what the setback requirements would be on different sides of a proposed rezoning, and I said something along the lines of "please excuse my lack of graphic art abilities" when I brought the sketch up. To me, that's inserting my personality into my presentations, but maybe the CA doesn't like that.
 

Veloise

Cyburbian
Messages
5,498
Points
26
Oh, good grief

Throughout my career I was confronted with Old Pale Males[SUP] tm[/SUP] telling me I was "unprofessional."
First municipal job: they "didn't like" my bicycle water bottle. (Concert black, matched my bike which I rode to work every day, as they were well aware.) And I noticed a direct correlation between the clothing I wore the week before a performance evaluation and the "score" on said document.
My last job: remote boss made me drive the five hours to his office to ream me over rumors and innuendo about how I "wasn't nice" to a long-time contractor (hello, I was hired to run the site acquisitions, and brought in new contractors who ran rings around the incumbents). That fool sat there, in his jeans and logo-ed sweatshirt, telling dress & jacket-wearing me that I wore "unprofessional" clothing. They continued that theme until I called HR on them.
Another time he pulled the same ¢r@p because I "wasn't asking enough questions" during conference calls. He didn't understand I had pre-calls, private ones, with said contractors. The company culture was to back someone into a corner and stomp on them, winning!

Whoops, you got me started.

My solution to the whole dress code issue was to keep them guessing; every day I wore outfits at almost-interview level. (This was facilitated by thrift stores, where good blazers can be found for less than $10.) When everyone else is dressed like they could grunge around out back of a cell tower site, the contrast was palpable.

As for presentations, say less. Pretend you're a defense witness and answer their questions tersely. You can pack all the details into a staff report.

Speaking of which, make those as complete and accurate as possible, with good runs on spell-check and grammar and facts. Go on site visits and take good photos, include those in the documentation. (I joined a small SLU department where I was the only one of the three staffers who did this.) Use lotsa planner-ese like "the subject property" and "per testimony." (I just looked in my archives -- want to see samples? PM me.)

Finally, dust off your resume.
 

gtpeach

Cyburbian
Messages
1,936
Points
14
As for presentations, say less. Pretend you're a defense witness and answer their questions tersely. You can pack all the details into a staff report.
I don't have to do much to pretend I'm a defense witness. I get treated that way by the Board on any contentious issue!

And thank you for your response. Although I don't like that this kind of thing happens to other women, it helps to know that I'm in good company! :)
 

Veloise

Cyburbian
Messages
5,498
Points
26
I don't have to do much to pretend I'm a defense witness. I get treated that way by the Board on any contentious issue!

And thank you for your response. Although I don't like that this kind of thing happens to other women, it helps to know that I'm in good company! :)
That first job: in 1978. That last job: ended 2010.

protest.jpg

edit: not a photo of me
 
Last edited:

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
13,229
Points
33
In dress code terms I'm trying to find that happy middle between bibby (overalls) wearing farmers and wearing a suit. I just go with slacks and either a sweater or polo. I don't bother with suits around here. Somewhere else, I might. Although I'm not going so casual to wear jeans or tennis shoes (unless I'm going out in the field).

The staff report is always super formal. It has to be.

The presentation, I just allow my personality to show through. I keep it quick and answer questions short and direct, but I just try to keep it plain.

Of course you ladies have it harder because there are still too many old guys who think the best a woman can do is be a secretary. It might be your office and not you.
 

gtpeach

Cyburbian
Messages
1,936
Points
14
I'm now on-line shopping clearance sales. Because if this is really that much of an issue, then I consider it to be a work-related matter.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
13,229
Points
33
Hit up Goodwill or the local thrift store. I usually pick up nice suits for $10-15.
 

jollyrancher

Member
Messages
7
Points
0
Are you following the Robert's Rules of Order? If not, you should really read that book. Address the Chairman and commissioners in the proper format.
 

mercdude

Cyburbian
Messages
235
Points
7
At this last meeting, I had a rough sketch showing what the setback requirements would be on different sides of a proposed rezoning, and I said something along the lines of "please excuse my lack of graphic art abilities" when I brought the sketch up. To me, that's inserting my personality into my presentations, but maybe the CA doesn't like that.
Okay, right there. Depending on context, to me, that's unprofessional. If you knew that the setbacks were going to be an issue at the meeting, having a polished diagram illustrating the concept should have been ready; on the other hand, if that just popped-up during the meeting and you rallied on the spot with some hand drawing, there's nothing wrong with that. People tend to be visual learners, especially those that lack imagination (aka politicians) or a professional background in planning (again, politicians). You have to spoon feed this stuff them. Coming from a LA background, as soon as some sort of spatial issue crops up, I'm ready with a diagram. I mean, architecture is (basically) graphic communication after all. :) Hope that sheds some light on the situation.
 

Veloise

Cyburbian
Messages
5,498
Points
26
So... I'm on a roll right now. I made a mistake when answering a question at our last Board meeting. I got two of the planning commission meetings mixed up (the requests were in the same small area) and responded with an incorrect answer. A board member corrected me. I realized it was awkward, thanked him for the correction, and made some plans on how I could adjust in the future - namely making sure I read over the Planning Commission minutes a day or two prior to the Board meetings in the future to refresh my memory.

Apparently this started a whole avalanche of issues initiated by the County Administrator that in general, I lack "professionalism" when addressing the Board. I've been doing this for eight years, and I've never gotten ANY feedback on any of my Board presentations, so this has come as a complete shock to me. I asked my boss if he had any suggestions on my presentation style, but he didn't have any specific suggestions for me. In general, I'm not a formal person. It's not that I don't take my job seriously, but that's not really my style. But I do try to be professional and respectful. I was criticized from the way I deliver my presentations to the way I dress. I'm the only person that makes regular presentations at the Board meetings outside of the administration, and I'm also not a department head that is privy to direct communication with the County Administrator when this kind of expectation is communicated. But I do dress fairly nicely for the meetings - this past meeting, I was wearing dark pants and a linen jacket. I feel like a large part of this is that dress codes are a little more challenging for women to interpret than men.

I also feel like since there was recently a rumor spread that I was unhappy at my job and specifically with my boss (no idea where that started), that this impression may be coloring the perception that I don't care about doing a good job.

My boss was really kind when addressing it with me. Basically, he said that he understood it was a mistake and something that could be fixed, but that I needed to make sure I worked on making improvements. But it's hard to know what to improve without more specific feedback. The mistakes are easily correctable, but not sure about the others.

So... when you hear the word "professional," what comes to mind? If you were told to simply "be more professional," what would you specifically work on?
Hey Peach, is this the same county admin in ...er... that other discussion?
 

arcplans

As Featured in "High Times"
Messages
6,377
Points
25
In my recent review I was dinged for "lack of professionalism", however it was more of the way I dress everyday. Sometimes I like to wear jeans (well I mean a lot), and to me, these are fashion jeans that cost around $75-$90 bucks a pair. Some have like rips, but nothing to drastic. Still with a collared shirt. Like today, I have black stonewash jeans, plaid collar shirt, and a sportcoat, with a pair of white adidas all-stars.

I was asked to wear suits in front of the council versus my sports coat, slack, and ties (I immediately went online and purchased 3 suites for alan dupeit, hell of an online suite store), as well as, dry to dress more for my role, which is middle management. The comment stems from really just trying to play the future role of PD, which i get.

As far as presentation style, I was directed to try to be "less explanation" (i.e. when i get a question from the Council, don't explain a rationale behind the answer, just give the answer, because while it is great to give the rational, sometimes they just want the answer). This really stems from my wanting people to understand where I came up with the methodology if getting the answer.

At least my PD was open about what professionalism was here at my current job.
 

mercdude

Cyburbian
Messages
235
Points
7
Ya IMO that's probably too hip for a professional office exposed to the public (read conservative). I mean, I too wear comfortable clothes, but I don't wear jeans with holes. Though... I did have this one coworker that would wear leggings to work. I tried to mention that leggings really undermine your professionalism by saying, "I think I speak for all the guys in the office when I say, thank you for wearing these". :) She laughed and said they were comfortable and if she was going to be in an office environment, she was going to be comfy. *shrug* Kids nowadays... eh?
 
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