The definition of ‘professionalism’ is as varied as the contents of people’s bagged lunches. What we consider professional will vary greatly depending on our personality, experiences, education, and frame of mind at any given moment.
Some days I see ‘being professional’ as being capable of effortlessly moving from one group of colleagues to another while maintaining an engaging flow of intelligent, insightful conversation. On these days I feel like a corporate superstar, capable of handling even the most demanding conference. Other days, ‘being professional’ means not launching myself across a table and throttling a fellow meeting attendee. On days like that, the best policy is usually to avoid saying anything much and, if possible, get out of as many human interactions as I can.
There are some markers of professionalism, however, that I consider fairly universal. One of them is the use of an open, friendly attitude towards your clients or colleagues. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes this is difficult. The ability to instantly produce a genuine (or genuine-looking) smile helps enormously with this task. Being friendly and taking an interest in the other person will get you much further than adopting a flat, expression-free aloofness, no matter how much you think such behaviour conveys expertise and knowledge.
Another marker is writing style. The use of emoticons, excessive exclamation marks, unnecessary double quotes, and other such devices can distract the reader from your actual message. It might make you sound overly emotional and slightly unhinged. At worst it makes you sound like a teenage girl. There is never – ever – any need for smiley faces in business emails or communications.
In terms of my personal tastes for projecting professionalism, I like to see a person’s capacity for self-control. Self-control doesn’t mean lack of expression – far from it. Easy expressiveness tells people what state of mind you may be in and opens up communication. Rather, I mean that the individual is able to refrain from expression excessive excitement or excessive disappointment. The level of excitement displayed should be proportional to the issue at hand. For instance, I don’t like seeing people reach massive states of thrill when they learn of a new initiative that may possible happen if all the conditions are right. I’d rather see genuine interest tempered with a rational discussion of the likelihood of those conditions being reached. Once the conditions are ripe and the project is actually initiated, then the excitement can build.
What sort of behaviours do you consider markers for professionalism?