Is Professionalism a Dirty Word?

My wife, Phyllis, was assigned the task of giving a talk on professionalism. She asked me, “What would you say?”

Professionalism can have negative connotations–being artificial or phony. I suppose for some that’s what it is. But that’s not how I think of it.

So I said to Phyllis, “To me professionalism is essentially showing respect for people–those in authority over you, those you supervise, customers, suppliers, those you serve, those who serve you–anyone you come in contact with.”

Obviously, showing respect means treating people with dignity. It means we show we value them as much as we value ourselves. We do this in a number of ways.

We value what they say. We listen closely to them and take their comments seriously. We respond courteously, thoughtfully. We are open, when appropriate, to change our minds or act differently based on what they say.

We value their time. We do our best to be on time at the start of appointment and not go longer than stated or expected.

We keep our promises and commitments, even if it is to our own detriment. That shows we value and respect our own words, and take seriously what we ourselves say. It is fine, when circumstances change, to discuss or negotiate a change with those to whom we’ve made promises. But if change isn’t possible, we keep our word.

We show respect to others by the way we dress. Obviously there are cultural and situational differences that call for different attire at different times. But that’s the point. We consciously pay attention to those factors and show respect by dressing accordingly.

We respect others by not being ruled by our emotions. We all have emotions. Emotions are part of what it means to be human. We don’t try to eliminate them. But we are not controlled by them either. Rather we learn to express them appropriately in ways that do not degrade, disregard or demean others. We do our best to make sure our emotions aren’t in control. The value we have for others is.

In short, professionalism means we conduct ourselves as if people matter.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.