The Leadership Insider network is an online community where the most thoughtful and influential people in business contribute answers to timely questions about careers and leadership. Today’s answer to the question “What are the three most unprofessional things an employee can do on the job?” is by Ryan Harwood, CEO of PureWow.
There are two things you have to do when starting any company: identify the culture you’ll strive for and the people you’ll aim to attract. I believe in creating a work environment that my employees are comfortable in, where we embrace transparency, and exercise radical candor. What’s interesting is that at the same moment of mapping out what you’ll do and who you’ll do it with, you also have to decide what won’t fly at your organization. Because blended doesn’t mean seamless, candor does not equate rudeness, and transparency does not give you an open pass to badmouth coworkers. Know what the deal breakers are and where your lines are drawn. That’s the difference between professional and unprofessional.
At PureWow, I wear jeans to work. I like to be friends with my employees. I want our culture to be open and feel natural to our young team. In our office, social life and work life often blend. But blended doesn’t mean there aren’t boundaries. I love the old saying that you shouldn’t write anything that you wouldn’t want on the front page of the New York Times. And I think that applies to work relationships and even conversations with your coworkers. You can have work friends whom you’ve known for years and are very close with, but you maintain a line you would never cross in terms of conversation or behavior. Making sure that line is never blurred is difficult when your 9-to-5 and social lives collide, and it’s important to take particular caution when alcohol is involved.
Liquid confidence can make even the most rational person say things they wouldn’t otherwise. And what’s dangerous about that is that it can make a boss or coworker second-guess whether that individual can be trusted, if they can handle themselves at a conference, or with clients. Certain people are really good at understanding that boundary. You need to be socially savvy enough to know where your friendship and work reputation intersect so that you’re five steps ahead of that potential breaking point.
Reprimanding or correcting someone in public, in front of other people — I believe is extremely unprofessional, not to mention unkind. We love candor at PureWow. Being open and straight with each other does wonders for efficiency and it works well for us. But there is a difference between being open and straight with one another and potentially humiliating someone with an off-the-cuff reprimand. They feel silly, they look embarrassed, and you’ve ultimately done more harm than good. So if someone can improve upon something or there is a problem to fix, instead ask them to jump in a room or meet privately. Obviously constructive criticism and critical feedback are important for growth, but you’ll get better results when that person feels you’re working with them, not against them.
Never badmouth, blame, or point fingers. Nothing is accomplished. Being transparent does not give you carte blanche to let loose on someone behind their back. If there is something wrong in the process, or in the company, or you don’t like someone’s behavior — whatever it is — talking about someone behind his/her back doesn’t solve the problem and only spreads toxicity. And as the head of the company, when someone acts like that, I’m going to second-guess whether that person deserves a promotion or additional responsibilities, because that type of toxic behavior is pervasive. There is a huge difference between pointless venting and coming in even-keeled, looking at the facts, and maybe even preparing some solutions to the problem.
Much of what is considered unprofessional is determined by your work culture, but even when it is your very own company defining that line for people can be hard. Being professional is about consistently proving yourself as an asset — not a liability — so think before you speak, be respectful, and don’t do anything your parents wouldn’t be proud of.