What is Professionalism?

Blogs, posts and conversations abound these days with comments such as “I was not treated professionally, he/she did not act professionally, that article was not written professionally and I am a professional.”  What are these comments referring to, when asked, the commenter usually cannot define what they mean by using the words professional, professionally or professional. 

Houghton Mifflin defines professional as: ADJECTIVE:  Of, relating to, engaged in, or suitable for a profession: lawyers, doctors, and other professional people. Conforming to the standards of a profession: professional behavior. Engaging in a given activity as a source of livelihood or as a career: a professional writer.  Performed by persons receiving pay: professional football. Having or showing great skill; expert: a professional repair job.

NOUN:  A person following a profession, especially a learned profession.  One who earns a living in a given or implied occupation: hired a professional to decorate the house. A skilled practitioner; an expert.

ADVERB: Professionalism

Different areas of occupation have different standards of professionalism.  Teachers have different standards of professionalism than do lawyers; doctors have different standards than plumbers; secretaries have different standards than CEO’s, etc.  In trucking the standard of professionalism is fairly static especially for drivers, a driver is safe in his/her driving skills, picks up and delivers on time, takes care of the equipment, communicates adequately with his/her shippers/receivers/dispatchers/brokers and is civil within the scope of their job, when possible, with those they come in contact with.  Many expect much more out of drivers though; ambiguity enters in when different professions cross paths.

A person who comes into trucking from another field such as nursing has a different idea of what professionalism is than a truck driver.  They perhaps are used to being called Ms, Mrs., or Mr. when spoken to by others.  When they interact with other drivers, brokers or dispatchers and are not called any longer by the honorific title, they can feel like they are not being treated ‘professionally’. 

A person who has a high level of education or a high intelligence, who can write and speak well and who may have been a teacher or executive decides to enter trucking.  In trucking, drivers come from many different levels of education, intelligence, and past work in different levels of other professions.  When they cross paths in any fashion, the new person might feel that drivers who do not speak or write as well as they do are less intelligent or are not writing or speaking ‘professionally’ and discount what the other driver has to say. 

Even regional differences can enter in to one’s perception of ‘professionalism’.  A worker in a hospital in North Carolina relates the following example.  “Down here in the south, it has always been that we comfort patients when interacting with them by presenting a friendly attitude.  We might call them hon or sugar, or in the case of an elderly person, Miss Mary for instance. To a southerner, this language usage is courteous and civil.  The  hospital was bought by a huge corporation, it was not long before we were told that the way we were speaking to our patients was ‘unprofessional’ and we were to only call them by surname and use the honorific Mrs., Mr., or Ms.; even the children.”

This idea of regional professionalism shows up in trucking also.  It is common in certain areas of the country for men to use supposed endearments when speaking to women.  In parts of Michigan, the men might call a woman ‘sweetheart’ or ‘sweety’, in the New England states ‘dear’ is used, in southern states a plethora of names might be used by both genders; ‘honey’, ‘sweetheart’, ‘baby’, ‘darlin’ to name a few.  While in most cases nothing bad is meant in those words being used, people who are not used to being called those names, or who are untraveled, when they interact with people from those areas, think that this word usage denotes ‘unprofessionalism’ if not worse.

In reality, being professional comes down to civility and in doing one’s job well; civility because in being civil, one does not use vulgar language or hateful words to get one’s point across or to interact with others.  When one is civil, one portrays a ‘professional’ aspect to what they do whether it is work related, political or in friendship, they do nothing that will offend others.  In doing one’s job well or to the best of one’s ability a person can take pride in what they do whether it is writing a letter or article, doing the job, or interacting with others; by definition, they are professionals.

The next time that anyone uses the words professional, professionalism or professionally, that person really needs to think about what they are referring to and make sure that they are not applying professional standards above and beyond to the current situation.  One person’s professional standards may not be what another’s are.

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