There are many misconceptions about professionalism. Perhaps the most common fallacy is the belief that one needs to look “professional” to be professional. This is an absurd and outdated idea… from the 1960?s! How can anyone fall for such superficial silliness? Wearing a suit is what lawyers, politicians, used car dealers, corporate criminals, mobsters, and other unethical people do to make you think they are credible, trustworthy, professional, etc. Do you want to look like these people? Professionalism is not how you look, it’s how you behave. It’s saying what you mean, doing what you say and getting the job done! Therefore, you cannot tell someone is professional by looking at them and how you dress is not what makes you professional!
Managers and leaders commonly label things they don’t want to deal with as unprofessional. Examples include using adult language, dating coworkers or occasional arguments. Since employees are human beings, how can one expect them not to do these things? Dealing with these issues, and many other similar ones, is management’s job, so calling them “unprofessional” in an effort to avoid dealing with potentially unpleasant aspects of the job… is UNPROFESSIONAL!
Being professional is doing the right thing, even if it is takes more time or costs more in terms of money or effort. Below is a list of the top ten most glaring examples of truly unprofessional behavior plus constructive remedies for each.
1. Being unresponsive – People commonly fail to answer emails or calls, which makes getting feedback, answers or problems solved rather difficult. They tend to do this to avoid uncomfortable situations, the paragon of unprofessional behavior. No one said work would be easy and that one can just ignore difficult issues. You are paid to handle problems and difficult situations, so stop procrastinating and get the job done! Listen knucklehead, do what you have to do or quit and get an easier job!
2. Blaming – People love to blame external factors for problems they create. Not only is this immature, but it often causes problems for other people. Additionally, the problem is never solved because it is blamed on something else. Don’t be like Donald Trump! Be an adult and take credit of your mistakes or ideas that didn’t work so that you can learn from them. Only then can they be prevented from happening again, if that is possible.
3. Not keeping promises – Keeping promises is a basic professional expectation, yet people fail to do this all the time! They make promises they know they cannot keep, which causes problems for other people who might be depending on the promise being kept. Do what you say you’re going to do! Only make promises you know you can keep (barring unexpected events beyond your control).
4. Politics – Despite the dysfunctional nature of this behavior, it is pervasive. People get promoted based on who they know rather than what they know or can do well. Putting you and/or your friend’s interests ahead of the organization’s interests results in poor decisions. At a macro level, an open and transparent culture, distributed power and leadership actively correcting such behavior are the best solutions. Don’t brown nose, rely on your skills and abilities to advance your career!
5. Being fake – Fakeness is widely accepted in the workplace. This is a very strange trend since fakeness prevents the truth from emerging, which often results in problems being concealed and bad decision making. Being fake is lying, which is bad! Reject the anti-free speech virus that is political correctness! Speak your mind and say exactly what you think! Stop acting like Paris Hilton and be real. The best that you can offer is the real you, not a fake version of you!
6. Putting profit ahead of customer needs – Selling a used car that is known to be defective and not disclosing it is a common example of this behavior. Companies do the same thing but on a larger scale, and its wrong! Customers pay for products and reasonably expect to get value. Professional companies exist to provide value and as a result, they earn a profit (i.e., Apple). As Walt Disney once said, “I don’t make movies to make money, I make money to make movies.” Focus on providing outstanding and unique value and you will be rewarded with profit.
7. Poor communication – One would imagine that after a decades of communicating, one would be an expert at communication. However people are notoriously poor at communicating, particularly listening. This endemic problem makes it impossible to be professional, since you cannot do your job effectively and improve if you cannot understand other people. The writing skills of most people, including college graduates, is atrocious. Putting together a coherent paragraph is an impossible task for far too many people. Since communicating is an integral part everyone’s their job, I advocate that all working adults take significant steps to improve their communication skills. This includes taking formal writing and listening courses, reading books and actively seeking critiques of your listening and writing skills.
8. Lying and stealing – These acts seem obviously unprofessional, but countless people do both every day; often in small seemingly inconsequential ways. However, size doesn’t matter when it comes to lying and stealing. No matter the size, it’s wrong, so it shouldn’t be done; particularly since small lies and minor stealing often leads to bigger versions of it. Not only are these unprofessional behaviors, they are also unethical and/or illegal.
9. Not giving 100% – Just look around and you can find dozens of examples of workers giving less than 100%. Part is this is a function of doing what is easy, not what is best. Mature adults do what is best, even if it is harder. If you collect 100% of your paycheck, you owe 100% work effort. If you think you aren’t being paid enough, rather than working less, get another job or start your own business!
10. Thin skin – There are millions of people who get hurt by any non-complimentary comment directed at them. They are like fragile little flowers! Grow up! Being a sensitive crybaby, who gets offended at every little thing, is not a virtue! Pressuring others to be politically correct or fake is not the answer. Learn to value critiques and see them as learning opportunities. Seek professional help if necessary…seriously. Learn what you suck at and seek to improve or avoid these activities.
Professional people do what unprofessional people think is impossible. Being professional requires maturity, honesty and self-awareness. It often means doing what we really would rather not do. However, that is part of what it takes to distinguish oneself from others and being professional.