Professionalism in the Workplace
In grad school, we had a guest speaker share the importance of professionalism in the workplace. Up until then, I hadn’t even considered that aspect of my education, but this speaker really helped me when I graduated into the world of being an SLP.
Now as an employer, I usually take a leap of faith and hope everyone that works for my company, Speech Goals, understands what it means to have professionalism in the workplace, but that hasn't always been the case. To me, professionalism covers a broad, unspoken list of expectations for a practicing SLP. Here are my top markers:
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1: Arrive Early, End on Time
I use the timer on my phone to guide me, but everyone has something that works for them.
2: Be a Team Player
Every now and then, I see strong drive in a new SLP, which is great, but there's a fine line between drive and ego. When ego is involved, the therapist shuts themselves off to new information and ideas, when in truth it’s in asking questions and getting opinions from your colleagues that you evolve faster as a therapist.
A true test of ego is when a parent requests a new therapist. Hopefully this doesn't happen often to you, but it could. It may not have to do with "you," but it can definitely feel that way. As a therapist, putting your ego aside is an important aspect of professionalism.
3: Don't Make Things Up
When a parent or professional asks me a question I have no idea about, I always say, "Hmm, good question let me think about that and get back to you." Giving people wrong information just because you feel you need to answer a question is unfair to the clients that you work with.
4: Watch Your (Non-Verbal) Language
Sometimes we work with children in need of pragmatic language skills. Professionalism enables us to look at our own non-verbal language. I have had therapists grimace when things don't go as planned in a session, and when they do, they give off a sense of impatience and judgment
Every once in a while, record your sessions and watch yourself — it’s a great self-evaluation tool.
5: Know When to Seek an Opinion
Sometimes speech is only one part of what a child is struggling with and you may detect that something else is happening for the child. Before you worry the parent, or suggest unnecessary labels and diagnosis, simply touching base with a mentor, supervisor, or other team members can facilitate getting your client additional support.
Worrying a parent or indicating a more serious problem without discussing the way to go about it with another supportive team member can definitely be detrimental to your rapport with them and with the child.
6: Lend a Hand
Be a strong team member and always seek to help your coworkers. I have heard things such as, "I don’t do that" or "that’s not part of my job." Of course, we should stay in our scope of practice as an SLP, but if you see trash on the way to your office or a child you walk by has a runny nose, lend a hand in the moment.
7: Communicate Effectively
Knowing what, how, and when to say things can really be an art. I have learned the hard way that if you talk to parents about something they’re not ready to hear — or don’t say something they do need to hear — you can dramatically change the dynamic between yourself and the family. I always say you can't "come in swinging."
With new clients, I may see signs of Autism or severe behaviors in a first session, but I don't come in "swinging,” addressing the parent about it. That will definitely lead to unnecessary grief and a bad experience for all involved.
8: Strive for Positivity
Being positive isn't always realistic, but positivity can simply mean smiling, looking on the bright side, looking at what is working and not complaining. Sharing about the successes you are having or a child that has really come around is also a good idea. Avoid criticizing fellow employees or team members. Remember, "If you have nothing good to say, don't say anything at all."
9: Dress for Success
As therapists, we need to really step away from our outer selves and focus on our inner selves to motivate and inspire. However, many have never realized that the way we dress can be a distraction to the parent and/or the child.
Low-cut blouses, short skirts, sweatpants, and sweatshirts can all be distracting and misleading, whereas wearing appropriate clothes relays the message that you are competent and professional. Professional dress does not always mean slacks and a suit, but appropriate dress is important no matter how superficial it sounds.
There are so many other things to consider when it comes to having professionalism in the workplace as an SLP, but these are just a few that I have generated over the years.
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