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Professionalism 101 (Part 4 of the “Prep” Series)

Building off of my last 2 posts about treating your child’s needs like you would a business and then further by bursting bubbles on our ingrained belief system about what we think school is versus the reality of the big business it’s become, let’s talk about business professionalism.

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  • You’re conducting all business in writing.
  • You’re recording every meeting (again if your state laws allow this but if a 2-party consent state, remember you must have the permission of the school to record).

With the above, you’re well on your way to acting like a professional.  Now, let’s talk about how you show up.

This applies to both men and women.

Skip the yoga pants and the tee shirts.  Don’t wear tennis shoes (unless you have a medical reason for doing so).  Definitely don’t wear flip flops.  Show up as you would to a meeting at work with a group of VP’s.  This may be school and your school staff may look like they just rolled out of bed (seriously, what’s up with that these days?!  I don’t get it at all!), but you’re here to get it done.

Slacks, flats, heels, tucked in shirts (this applies specifically to men), belts, whatever, so long as it’s business professional.

You want to set the tone and it’s very easy to do so by how you show up.

I’ve worn jeans once and it wasn’t to a 504 / IEP meeting.  It was to a beginning of the year meeting with just the teachers and I wore boots and a blazer with nice jeans.  My hair was done and I had makeup and jewelry on.

I know this seems ridiculous, but think about a work setting.  When you’re meeting with a customer / supplier / whatever for the first time and they show up in faded jeans and a tacky shirt, do you not judge them right off the bat?  It’s harder for them to impress you with their offering if they set the wrong tone about how “serious” they are the second they walk in the door.  The ones that show up in suits (unless you’re in the kind of business where a suit is the norm) are working too hard and turn you off equally as much.  Those who are put together, sharp and ready to work, those are the foes you take seriously.

Within my career my primary role has been negotiating.  In negotiation a key skill to learn is how to read people.  I can tell you the second people walk in the door, everyone is sizing each other up and their appearance is step one to this critical review.

I wish I was kidding, but I’m not.

So use this to your advantage and dress the part.  This is a business negotiation.  Remember that.

So, you’ve set the tone.  Now, read the people in the room.

You have only a few minutes to effectively read everyone across from you and gain the information you need to solidify which strategy of the ones you’ve prepared is going to be the most effective.  Use this few minutes to get your things out, engage in polite banter, get your recorder set up and running, make sure everyone is ready.

How a person holds themselves tells you a lot.  Did they stand up to greet you or stay seated?  Who was the first one to extend their hand and was that due to proximity or did they make that extra effort?  If they made the effort, why?  Who is everyone deferring to?  How are they seated around the table?  What are they wearing?  Are they fidgeting?  If you’ve met them before are they overtly quiet or are they too talkative but in a nervous way?  What’s in front of them, nothing?  A laptop?  A lot of paper?  A laptop and paper?

During the set up period where you’re further assessing people, you continue with the questions above.  You need to determine the assumed hierarchy of power.  You need to determine if they all view themselves as equals or are they deferring to one specific person.  If one specific person what is that person’s modis operandi (MO)?  Is emotion running high or low?

I’ll confess to intentionally picking a fight with the person I assessed as being the big cheese in the room just to solidify my assessment of him.  He did NOT disappoint.  Through my assessment I had predetermined he was a man who used his physical presence as a means of intimidation and was not afraid to use that against a single person in his path.  I had further determined that this had been an extremely effective tactic for him.

Sadly for him, I’m not easily intimidated.  Responding exactly as I had anticipated, he began to do everything in his power to intimidate me.  He had raised his voice to just below yelling.  He was condescending and spoke to me like I was an idiot, and he waved his hands a lot.  I let him get a couple of minutes into his spiel before I started laughing hysterically.  I did this for very specific reasons.  First, I knew it would fluster him and take him off balance.  Second, it would end his speech and make him very cognizant that I was not going to allow him to dominate the meeting.  Third, it effectively communicated that I was not going to be intimidated and since this had always been a very effective tactic for him, that it would throw him off center and he would not know either how to respond or how to behave.  Lucky for me, I was right on all counts.  I had in essence dismantled his pre-arranged secret agenda and shifted the power back to center where we were now equals.  But, I also sent a powerful message in that key move.  I established myself as an adversary but more importantly I established myself as not someone to be taken lightly.  Needless to say,  while there was some content to the meeting that infuriated me, I found the next 3 hours rather enjoyable.

Now, despite my example I need to stress, I’ve never lost my cool.  Yes, I’ve been overly amped and I’ll share that later, but I’ve never lost my cool.  I’ve never used foul language because that’s the fastest way to lose the battle.  The second you curse, you’ve lost.  When people have yelled, I’ve been calm.  I smile.  I’m polite.  I’m civil.  I hug teachers.  I shake administrator’s hands.  Sometimes I bring food.  All of this is me, showing up and controlling the tone of the meeting.  It’s been rather effective.

Now I’ve had years in the professional arena and some (maybe a lot) of what I’ve written above is going to seem ridiculous, but remember, what I’m trying to do is arm you for battle.  How you show up is simply your armor.  Combined with my other series posts and what’s yet to come, I’ll help you build an effective weapon.  I cannot nor will not guarantee you success.  All I can do is prep you.  You have to be the one to fight.  You have to be the one determined to win, however that may look and whatever that cost may be.


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