There are some simple, yet often forgotten, business principles that can build a positive professional reputation and keep credibility intact -- for you and your business. Here are seven ways to convey that you are poised, polished and ready to conduct business with the highest standards of professionalism.
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1. Be honest.
Unfortunately, fraud and scandals are too common in modern business. Your credibility is rooted in your ability to be honest, no matter the situation. Although you might be tempted to intentionally lie, misstate or misrepresent yourself or an aspect of your business, the long-term cost severely outweighs any short-term benefit. Even small fibs can damage or ruin your reputation.
2. Keep your word.
Your professional reputation is damaged when you don’t deliver on a promise. Every time you make a commitment, you have the opportunity to raise or lower your credibility quotient. Your word is all you’ve got. It’s important to be straightforward and upfront, letting everyone involved know what to expect before you start a new project. No one likes surprises. If you can’t complete a task before the deadline or stay within the budget, let clients know immediately. People tend to be much more understanding and forgiving if they’ve had advance warning.
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3. Admit your mistakes.
Failure is an inevitable aspect of business. Though mistakes happen, successful managers and entrepreneurs understand how important it is to focus on solutions rather than obsess over problems.
To maintain a professional reputation as someone who is reliable and trustworthy, own up to mistakes as soon as they occur. Don’t attempt to cover up, ignore or minimize your errors or those of your business. Instead, take responsibility and find a solution. Always learn from your mistakes and then move on.
4. Be punctual.
Clients will evaluate you in part on your dependability. Most people will choose to work with someone who consistently delivers projects on time and on budget over someone who is talented but unreliable. Manage your time carefully to ensure that you never miss a meeting, deadline or commitment.
When meeting with clients or associates, arrive a few minutes early. Give yourself a buffer for travel to account for any traffic delays, inclement weather or difficulty with parking. If you arrive with plenty of time to spare, take a few moments to go to the restroom and gain your composure. Take advantage of your punctuality and build rapport with others who have arrived early. If something unavoidable happens to delay you, don’t make up an excuse. Instead, simply apologize.
5. Don’t use foul language.
Choose your words carefully. What you say and how you say it can deeply impact how others perceive you. Using profanity and foul language in public can send the message that you are immature, impatient and lack self-control. Swearing in a professional setting will never command the respect of those around you. Instead, a foul mouth will isolate and alienate you from others. Don’t give clients, co-workers and customers an excuse to not work with you. If you find yourself so angry or upset that you start to lose your temper, walk away. It’s much better to excuse yourself to another room than direct your anger at someone else.
6. Handle conflict gracefully.
There will be times when you don’t agree with your clients, colleagues or partners. The potential for arguments and disagreements will always be a part of doing business. But how you handle difficult situations will reveal your character. If a client tests your patience or questions your authority, don’t allow the situation to ruffle your feathers. Try not to react with anger or take frustrations out on someone else. Instead, work with the client to find a compromise. When you’re wrong, yield with grace.
7. Don’t burn bridges.
The business world is tumultuous. Never speak negatively of a past client or business relationship. Your adversary today could be your ally tomorrow. In 1992, I lost my job to a department-wide layoff. Though it would have been easy to lose touch, I kept in contact with my former director. Two years later, when I was interviewing for a public relations position at the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., she was happy to give me a good reference. Her recommendation helped me get the job.
Relationships change and people may surprise you with a change in position or stature. The person you once took for granted may eventually turn out to be a powerful acquaintance.
This story originally appeared at Entrepreneur. Copyright 2014.