I grew up never really knowing what professionalism was. I came from a blue collar family that was more about living and acting in the moment according to the culture. We didn’t always consider our actions and how we should behave or what we should or shouldn’t say around others.
In my early twenties I was more focused on my freedom to say whatever I feel, and not really worried about my responsibility to keep my words from hurting others. My filter was weak.
I had a wake-up call that caused me to question much of my cultural upbringing. I realized my circumstances, limitations and personal history did not have to control who I become. If I truly want to be successful at anything, it was going to take a lot of work, dedication and a change in the way that I view and present myself. I needed a new outlook on who I was and what I wanted to become.
Now, as a business owner, I really appreciate a person with great verbal and writing skills. There is something about a skilled individual who can use their words to say, “I care about what you think”, or “I would like to assist you the best that I can”, and “I assume the best in you and I appreciate you”. Most of the world says “whatchu want?”, or “make it quick, my time is valuable”, and “Have I got a great deal for you!”
Professionalism is not just about looking and acting sharp, but being sharp with direction and conviction. It doesn’t come from a script, and, unfortunately, you can’t simply take a half-day training to become professional.
Ultimately professionalism will only come when we make the decision to put others ahead of ourselves and take what we do seriously. That’s really it. When we begin to understand what others need to hear, we begin to think outside of ourselves. When what we do matters because we have already determined that it is worthy of our efforts and worth doing well, we begin to act and communicate more professionally with purpose and conviction.
Wisdom plays a major part in professionalism too. Wisdom of speech is the measure of a person. What comes out of your mouth is what others will use to judge you.
Growing up, no one was going to tell me what I could and couldn’t say. I was my own boss and if people don’t like me the way I was, they could take a flying leap. When we only look at the world through a one-way mirror, we miss opportunities to be better. The problem with being your own source of accountability is that you end up saying many stupid things that hurt others and yourself. You don’t even realize your own blind spot because what others see is not on your radar. It should be.
When I was a kid I learned the term “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me”. While the intentions are good, that is one of the biggest lies ever to be told. Words can crush the spirit and wound people greatly. They can also heal and mend people if used with wisdom.
We need to be responsible with the words that we say and what we communicate to others. Learning to speak with restraint helps us to be more professional and courteous to others, and keeps us from looking foolish or insensitive.
Learning to look at other people and determine what they need to hear makes us difference-makers. Sometimes people need encouragement, sometimes a smile or instructions; sometimes they need a kick in the pants. Whatever they need, when we do it with professionalism and respect it will be received with much better appreciation. Even if what you say is socially acceptable, shouldn’t we try to be socially exceptional?
I don’t claim to be the most professional person or to have reached my best, but I do believe my behavior will make a difference in people’s day. So I will try to make a positive difference as often as I can.