I’ve been in the military for nearly 11 years now. It’s offered me countless opportunities to travel the country and the world, meet individuals from all different walks of life, and helped me to create a rewarding career serving my country—a privilege not many get to experience. I joined at age 18, barely a month after graduating high school, and with my enlistment, I earned myself a crash course in respect. Although there are nuances the military enforces that other professions may not, over the years I’ve learned a handful of habits that I believe would benefit anyone, regardless of their line of work.
Personal values and virtues will influence how you interact and treat others, but here are some tips that may help you to create a better first impression and lasting professional relationships throughout your life.
1. Match the other person’s stature.
What exactly does that mean? If someone walks into your office, stand when speaking to them; remaining in your seat while they stand and talk to you doesn’t make much sense, does it? One of you is looking up; the other is looking down. I suggest standing as equals and looking eye to eye when carrying on a conversation, even if one of you is in a superior duty position to another. This shows that you respect who they are regardless of their job title or your position. From the CEO to the janitor, everyone deserves respect.
2. Use “Sir,” “Ma’am,” or “Miss” more often.
Yes, this may be a custom typically taught in the military and the South, but can you really go wrong with professionally addressing a boss, coworker, or peer? I believe it’s better to err on the side of caution and use such terms of address as a show of respect. Sure, the individual may ask you to call them by their first name or another title altogether, but wouldn’t you rather be corrected for overusing a semi-formal term than the other way around? My five-year-old uses these terms when speaking with his elders and his peers, so why shouldn’t I do the same?
3. Practice the art of the follow-up.
Too often I hear individuals say they will partake in a project or endeavor and then never follow up. Perhaps they initially forgot and didn’t want to bring attention to their error, or they hope the other parties involved long since forgot about the same. Let’s be real—the other parties never forget, and will likely form an opinion on you based on your lack of follow through, and it’s probably not going to be a good opinion. You don’t have to have all of the answers all of the time, but admit that and when you say you’ll follow up—do it!
4. If you walk past a piece of trash, pick it up.
Of course, I can’t suggest that we all dedicate our time and our lives to community service projects and constant beautification of our environment, but if you’re walking down a hallway, sidewalk, or boardroom and see a piece of trash, why walk past it as if it wasn’t there? None of us are too good to pick up a piece of trash, and assuming it’s not a dirty tissue or horribly unsanitary item, you’ll impress and inspire others to take care of, and pride in, the place you work or shop. Carrying a small bottle of hand sanitizer can also come in handy and eliminate the “ick!” factor associated with picking up an item whose origins remain unknown.
5. Admit when you’re wrong, and apologize if necessary.
It’s never easy to look someone in the eye and say that you were wrong; it’s even more difficult to apologize for a mistake you’ve made. You’re embarrassed or ashamed, and you don’t want to bring more attention to an error you may have facilitated, but taking the time to admit—in person—when you’ve bungled a situation will go a long way in reinforcing a positive image of your character, humility, and reputation. People will remember when you apologized and will think better of you for it. They will also remember when you haven’t!
6. Use a firm handshake and a name.
I can’t be the only person who has a tendency to immediately forget a name about five seconds after being introduced to a new person, can I? One thing I’ve learned to help alleviate the instant amnesia of meeting someone new is to provide a firm handshake and repeat their name back to them, along with a greeting like “it’s great to meet you!” I tell new military recruits that you only get one chance at a first impression, and a limp handshake and mumbled greeting is a great way to remain forgettable… or maybe memorable for all the wrong reasons! I suggest even repeating the same when you go your separate ways; another firm handshake, departing words, and use of their name will reinforce the feeling that you valued meeting the person and that you were paying attention to who they are and what they said.
Respect is like a muscle you can build. It may seem foreign to incorporate some of these habits I’ve listed above, but I’ve never had an adverse reaction from employing them in my personal or professional life, and with practice, you’ll get better and more confident in using them, too.
For more on work, check out this episode of our podcast, This Grit and Grace Life: To the Working Woman: A How-To Guide for the Workplace – 023
You’ll also like Grit and Grace: The Official Armor of a Military Wife, Freedom from the Glass Ceiling and the Glass Slipper, 6 Insider Tips to Help You Ace the Interview and Get the Offer, Men and Women Are Equal, but Not Identical, Have a Problem at Work? Go Direct and Talk About It!, and 10 Ways to Be a Young, Respectful Professional.