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In Praise of Icy Professionalism

Model Snejana Onopka as Anna Wintour in L'Icone editorial - French Vogue

Recently I have had the opportunity of dealing with a certain businessman, a young entrepreneur even, on a certain project that is headed by my friend. I work as a freelancer for this friend of mine, managing his restaurant’s social media, but this project does not concern the restaurant, nor does it concern the company that I work full time for. My friend owns another company, an advertising agency, and this agency is handling the project that I participate in.

Like with the restaurant, I also act as a mastermind behind the project’s campaign on social media. This businessman owns and operates the media that we utilize for the project. I don’t want to go into details about the campaign, but let’s just say that I give orders to the businessman regarding what information to post, where to post it from, and when to post it. The campaign is very detailed and quite meticulously planned; I take it seriously. And it is also important to note here that my friend pays this businessman for the campaign, so everything is done professionally, at least on my and my friend’s part.

I said that because things haven’t gone very professional on the businessman’s part. For the most part, he is often late with the posting of information that I order every single day until the campaign is over. Obviously, that screws up with the meticulously planned timing of the campaign and could very well reduce the potential success of it. I let that businessman know, every single time, when he is late and, for the rest of his unprofessional part, he would always come up with an excuse after excuse.

The excuse wasn’t something out of a simple human error like “oh, sorry, I almost forgot that I had to post the information 15 minutes ago.” More than once he would tell me that a certain medium that we had agreed upon to use for the campaign has now become unavailable due to bla bla bla, so I had to put extra labor into converting the numbers of posting and redesigning the campaign. I can’t comment on whether all of these have made the campaign unsuccessful, but I know that his mistakes gave me frustration and there was nothing about the job that worth that.

Work gives us frustration; I know that and I can deal with that. However, regarding this campaign, I would rather see it fail due to my own miscalculation (and get frustrated by my own mistake) than to have someone I work with poorly execute the strategy. It’s bad and unprofessional enough that you poorly execute a strategy, but it’s far worse when you respond to complaints about your mistake with an attitude that is less than professional.

I have been communicating with this businessman via a certain instant messenger service. Every time, I would use proper grammar in my messages and address this person respectfully, but then this person would reply me with emoticons. When all things have went well, I would assume emoticons as signs of friendliness, but when we’re discussing about professional mistakes, they just seem like disrespect and nonchalance to me.

I’m very aware that even when nothing goes wrong I would still try my best to maintain my professionalism and a remarkable degree of formality. That is who I am (I’m sure you can quite tell that from the style of my writings alone), and it has pretty much been a source of complaints, particularly from my bosses. They have said things that would imply my disability to compromise and to deal with people flexibly, and even when they formally made me a part of the company’s Public Relations team they still felt nervous about letting me deal with people and just sort of be on the forefront.

How I am as a PR person might be unconventional. I got the impression that a PR person would have to be willing to go to great lengths to please the clients and the media and give them the impression that s/he and the company would do anything in exchange for good publicity or, at least, for the sake of not being deemed arrogant. It seemed to me that the only principle a PR person should hold on to is “to be unprincipled”: a PR person had to be warm and fluid, not cold and icy like I am today.

I have several good reasons to remain icy as a PR. For one thing, every company stands up for something, a certain goal, vision, and brand-positioning that just cannot be compromised. No matter how flexible the company should be, there are some rules that cannot be bent if the company doesn’t want to lose its identity and veer off the track altogether. Even when the company (or anybody) is forced to bend the rule, in face of a very desirable reward, the company shouldn’t do so too easily and too frequently. Why? Because essentially relation between the company and other party (and so is every form of human relationship) is a relation of power. The weak and the needy submit, and who is it that bends on command: the whore or the fucker? Correct, the whore.

The second reason (more like an example, actually) is Anna Wintour. Look at her; she is considered the coldest woman in fashion (also considered the most powerful) but she managed to rule the fashion world for more than 20 years as Editor-in-Chief of US Vogue. Everybody, from her own staffs to Marc Jacobs to Bernard Arnault, listens to her and do what she asks them to do. Most remarkably, she doesn’t do that by sucking up to everybody like a PR person supposedly should (it’s important to note that everyone in the company, with or without formal title like what I bear, is responsible for good PR). Rather, she does that by being decisive, by being able to let people know that she knows what she wants and why she wants it. That, and the ability to deliver satisfactory qualities for her clients. I would rather satisfy my clients with the quality of my performance rather than suck up to their feelings and be their next best friend.

So far, I have managed to keep my professionalism, integrity, and decisiveness and I’m very proud about that. Call me arrogant, but any company that hires me should be grateful for my attitude because it is exactly what the company needs to prevent anyone from walking all over the company’s integrity and reputation. It’s no big loss when some other party doesn’t want to deal with your company due to your refusal to being a suck-up. As long as you can deliver the best, clients and customers will come.

The metaphor of ice in “icy professionalism” is apt. Ice is cold and solid, the solidity symbolizes principle, integrity, and decisiveness. The opposite of icy professionalism is the “warm water”, where the fluidity of the water symbolizes the whore and this doesn’t even deserve to be a predicate of professionalism. Warmth is good, but who said that cold is bad? The chill keeps you level-headed and, like an ice water down your spine, it snatches you back to sanity, to recognition of the reality of your professional goals.

– Taws Up! –


Arriving Too Late, Leaving Too Soon

“Never be the last to leave a party. That’s for Debbies. ‘Debbies’ equals ‘desperate’”, begitu ungkap Paris Hilton di episode pertama Paris Hilton’s My New BFF, mengucap sebuah prinsip yang wajib dipegang teguh oleh mereka yang haus pesta, pergaulan, dan citra sebagai bintang paling bersinar dalam konstelasi pesta dan ajang pergaulan ibukota. Terapkan prinsip ini secara konsisten, bersama dengan “never be the first to arrive at a party”, dan anda dijamin akan tampak “penting” di mata biang pesta lainnya.





Really? Mungkin tidak. Sepasang prinsip di atas dapat menjadi bumerang bila tidak anda terapkan secara hati-hati dan tepat konteks. Bilamana anda tak bersikap cermat dan sadar timing, anda justru akan dianggap tak menghargai orang lain. Mengapa begitu? Karena anda tidak berpesta dan bergaul dengan robot, melainkan dengan manusia yang juga memiliki penilaian yang bisa berubah.



Ada beberapa motif dari kedua prinsip di atas. Saat kita menerapkan keduanya secara sadar, kita memiliki ekspektasi bahwa orang lain akan melihat dan menilai kita sebagai sosok yang sibuk. Dengan kata lain, kita ingin melahirkan anggapan bahwa kehadiran kita juga dibutuhkan oleh banyak orang lain sampai-sampai kita sulit datang tepat waktu atau berlama-lama dalam sebuah acara. Selain itu, tidak menjadi orang pertama yang hadir di sebuah perkumpulan membebaskan kita dari rasa bosan dan kesal menunggu anggota lainnya yang terlambat. Siapa yang suka menunggu? Nobody. Siapa yang suka menjadi orang yang ditunggu-tunggu? Everybody.



Lantas mengapa bertahan di sebuah pesta hingga (menjelang) akhir membuat anda terlihat desperate? Well, to put it simply, that would make you look like you had nothing else to do. It would also make you look like you had a boring, meaningless life and staying in a party for as long as possible is the only way to satisfy your thirst for entertainment. Itu yang membuat anda terlihat desperate. Citra anda pun akan semakin jatuh bila anda bertahan meskipun orang-orang yang anda kenal telah meninggalkan pesta dan anda berusaha untuk nimbrung dengan sekelompok orang asing yang tersisa.



Bila anda memang hanya peduli pada pesta, pergaulan, dan citra sebagai biang pesta maka kedua prinsip tersebut patut anda pegang teguh. Namun kualitas relasi sosial selalu rentan terhadap fluktuasi. Persepsi orang lain akan anda sebagai orang “penting” dengan lingkaran pergaulan terluas dapat luntur sebagaimana toleransi orang lain terhadap keterlambatan dan keengganan anda untuk menghabiskan waktu lebih lama di suatu acara juga memiliki batas. Bila anda terus me-nomor-dua-kan relasi anda di bawah kebutuhan untuk tampil “penting”, pada akhirnya anda justru terlihat menyepelekan para teman anda dan pihak penyelenggara pesta.



OK, kalau kita hanya bicara soal pesta di club, dimana anda berdesakan dengan complete strangers dan anda tidak berkewajiban untuk datang pada waktu tertentu, maka kita tidak punya masalah. Namun datang terlambat telah begitu membudaya di Indonesia, bahkan telah di-cap sebagai karakter orang Indonesia (oleh orang Indonesia sendiri!). Datang terlambat, dan actually menganggap bahwa itu dapat terus dimaklumi, adalah gejala seorang yang tak bisa menghargai waktu dan kepentingan orang lain. Begitu orang lain menyadari bahwa anda lebih mementingkan citra diri dan status sebagai orang-yang-ditunggu di atas quality time bersama mereka maka anda tidak akan lagi menjadi penting. Siapa yang ingin berbagi momen dengan seseorang yang menganggap momen tidak tidak penting?



Kapan waktu yang tepat untuk tiba dan meninggalkan suatu acara sangatlah relatif terhadap kepentingan kita masing-masing. Menerapkan kedua prinsip Hiltonian di atas jelas dapat melambungkan status sosial kita. But in my opinion, penerapannya tidak tepat pada segala acara atau social gathering. Menerapkan prinsip tersebut saat kita bersama orang-orang yang lebih dari sekedar stranger atau kenalan-sambil-lalu justru dapat merusak hubungan sosial. Perhatian pada citra diri tidak perlu kita abaikan, namun kita harus tahu kapan perlu mendedikasikan quality time dengan orang-orang yang sesungguhnya penting. 


– Adhi Putra Tawakal –