Just what does it mean to be a professional?
I was asked that question as I prepared a seminar for a client recently. It gave me pause. We use the word “professional” all the time, but what are the traits that embody professionalism?
Immediately, and not unsurprisingly, the three principles of etiquette came to mind: consideration, respect, and honesty.
Consideration. A professional person is able to look at a situation objectively, recognize what is going on, and understand how it affects everybody involved. It means being aware of the bigger picture.
Respect. Certainly professional people show respect toward those with whom they interact. They think about the impact of their actions on others. Perhaps most important, they act in ways that not only deal with the situation at hand but also positively affect the other people involved.
Honesty. The professional person is truthful. Deception — even a white lie — is not part of his or her make-up. Honesty also means sincerity. A core trait of the professional person is that he or she exhibits sincerity in their interactions.
When these three characteristics are employed, they engender trust. Business is built on trust. It takes effort and repetition to build trust. Just one insincere act can cause trust to be lost, and once lost it is very difficult to regain.
Hand-in-hand with the principles of etiquette, the professional person also:
Exhibits competence. Professionals are good at their jobs. They have mastered their job skills. That mastery builds confidence with clients as well as colleagues, managers, and suppliers.
Honors commitments. Being responsible certainly means being a person others can count on — getting the job done right, and getting it done on time. Responsibility also implies a willingness to own up to problems when they occur and, where possible, to have a solution in mind. It’s not a question of whether someone is going to make a mistake, it’s how the person handles it when the mistake occurs that matters.
Projects a positive image. That image starts with attire. But it also is affected by actions such as eye contact, posture, and body language.
Add these six traits up, and you begin to have an image of a person who is a professional.
E-mail questions about business etiquette to firstname.lastname@example.org.