!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: What Professionalism Looks Like

Sunday, September 17, 2006

What Professionalism Looks Like

I am a big proponent of helping employees at all levels to internalize the concept of professionalism and to develop a personal version of professionalism that fits their particular job responsibilities. But "professionalism" is one of those words that is often used without definition, so people don't have a clear idea of what they need to do in order to be fully professional.

A while ago I came upon an article dealing with the nitty-gritty of professionalism that advances the cause. "The Seven Balancing Acts of Professional Behavior in the United States," by consulants Cornelius Grove (an interculturalist) and Willa Hallowell (an anthropologist) of Grovewell LLC, approaches the subject in a sophisticated way that is also practical.

Their main message is that an accomplished professional in the United States honors certain U.S. cultural values without taking anything to extremes. The seven pairs of contrasting values that Grove and Hallowell cite are summarized below.

In work-related situations in the United States, professional behavior is ...
  • Individualistic yet restrained — "One must demonstrate one's individualism and independence on the one hand; one must also observe prevailing social norms and the expectations of business associates on the other."

  • Egalitarian yet respectful — "Americans demonstrate their common humanity with others by being overtly friendly and informal with all others. At the same time, they are alert and ready to comply when someone with power acts 'in role.'"

  • Assertive yet sensitive — "Acting professionally in the U.S. means putting a boundary on one's assertiveness and self-assurance, a boundary that varies across times, situations, and people. This shifting boundary is governed by one's awareness of the likely effect on others of varying levels of assertiveness. The professional constantly endeavors to be sensitive to others, thereby learning how to temper and modulate his or her behavior."

  • Accurate yet tactful — "In the U.S., the high value on accuracy must always be tempered by tact, even to the point of occasionally stopping short of being 100% accurate. When shortcomings must be fully revealed, the bad news should be restricted to those who are directly involved."

  • Punctual yet patient — "Being punctual is about being sensitive to the needs of others, who are also following preplanned schedules. ... [But] people have many responsibilities and tasks to attend to daily. ... So along with punctuality, one needs patience. Being patient is about being sensitive to others' workloads and priorities."

  • Warm yet "cool" — "... U.S. businesspeople need to be both 'warm' in the sense of not being emotionally flat or uncaring towards others, yet 'cool' in the sense of reacting rationally and neutrally to unusual events and behavior, including emotionally upsetting situations and even well-intentioned criticism of oneself ..."

  • Optimal yet practical — "Acting professionally in the U.S. means valuing excellence, with the outcome that one attempts to improve knowledge, skills, speed, and quality of output in oneself and one's coworkers. But in most situations, this quest for optimal results needs to be balanced by practical considerations. Deadlines and budgets are important, too."
If you would like to read the full article, including the examples Grove and Hallowell offer, you can go here. Note that, at the end of the article, Grove and Hallowell supplement their "seven balancing acts" with four other important qualities of professionalism in the U.S.: presentable personal appearance, reliability in completing work and delivering results, conscientious execution that aims steadily at excellence, and being non-judgmental, as opposed to leaping to conclusions before the facts of a problem situation have been gathered.