Establishing Professional Values

©Dennis Gaskill

Q: We always hear we should present ourselves in a professional manner at all times. I hear that kind of advice tossed around a lot, but just what does it do you be a professional if you're trying to break in and aren't a professional yet?

A: That's a good question. I suppose it means different things to different people, but I'll tell you what it means to me and you can use that to help you find your own definition of professionalism.

Acting the part of a professional, no matter what profession you're in or trying to be a part of, is largely a matter of self-discipline. Here are a few of the touchstones of being a professional as I see it:

  • You care enough about what others think of you that it keeps you on your best behavior. That means you can't always say what you want to say at times, but that's not to say you can't be assertive.

  • You are reasonable and approachable. In other words, you keep your ego in check and don't think yourself better than others. You have different experiences in life, but know everyone is your equal.

  • You present yourself in writing in a professional manner. You use proper punctuation, grammar, spelling, and capitalization to the best of your ability; and never let laziness or indifference dictate your writing style.

  • Act the part. Acting like a professional is being professional. Titles, income, acclaim, having earned respect in your field - these are the results of professionalism, not the qualifications. You can act the part of a professional whether you've achieved a measure of success yet or not. Of course, that doesn't mean you should perform brain surgery if you haven't had the training.

  • Know what you need to know. Do your homework and try not to fool people into thinking you know what you're talking about when you don't. You may be exposed doing that, and lose all credibility.
  • Only write and say what you wouldn't mind seeing attributed to you on the front page of your newspaper, in your church bulletin, and in your mother's own hands!

  • Be accountable and accept responsibility for your decisions and actions. Know that you, and only you, are responsible for your life.

  • Give credit where credit is due. Being a professional doesn't mean having all the answers or knowing the best decision in any given situation. Sometimes being professional is knowing how to choose the best person or where find the best answer, and if that comes from someone else, give them credit. One of the keys to having what you want in life is helping others get what they want, and that includes giving them respect and recognition.

  • If your job includes meeting people, being a professional means looking the part as well. This includes wearing clean, appropriate clothing; keeping your hair clean and neatly trimmed, including facial hair if you wear it; and other grooming and apparel needs.

  • Listen to reason and be fair. This often means having to do so when the other person isn't - but also hold your ground when necessary. Being a professional doesn't meaning allowing people to take advantage of you or to be abusive to you.

  • Practice good taste. Don't make insensitive jokes, engage in sexual innuendo, participate in denigrating gossip, etc.

I could add a lot more to that list, but if I had to sum up professionalism in one sentence it would be this:

Being a professional is being an adult, exercising self-discipline, and using common sense while keeping an eye toward fairness and mutual benefit.

I hope that gives you enough ideas to begin establishing your own professional values.

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