How to Be Professional (Even in Slippers)

Working from home has made us rethink what it means to be professional. Like feeling comfortable swapping that work suit for a sweat suit.  But professionalism has always been about more than a dress code. It’s performing to your best, inspiring others, and feeling good about yourself.  Let’s explore ways to act and feel like a pro – wherever you work from.


Professionalism | Meeting the Standards That Matter

Professionalism is a powerful quality. It allows you to fulfill your role to the best of your ability. It helps you to impress and inspire others. And it gives you a deep sense of satisfaction and self-worth.  What’s more, professionalism is something that everyone can aspire to from day one of their career.  In this article we explain what professionalism means today, and show you how to act and feel like a professional – wherever you work.


Video:  Six Traits of a True Professional


What Is Professionalism?

As the saying goes, “Professionalism is not the job you do, it’s how you do the job.


Professionalism involves consistently achieving high standards, both visibly and “behind the scenes” – whatever your role or profession.  Some sectors, workplaces or roles have particular “rules” of professionalism. These may be explicit, such as an agreed dress code, or a policy for using social media. Other rules and expectations may not be written down, but they can be just as important – such as what is regarded as professional behavior at meetings, or even how people personalize their desks.


It pays to be observant, and to ask for clarification if necessary. “Fitting in” is a big part of professionalism, as it’s a way to show respect, attention to detail, and a commitment to upholding agreed practices and values.


However, “being true to yourself” is just as important. True professionals don’t follow rules mindlessly, and they know when and how to challenge norms. They’re also flexible, and they find their own ways to do things – while still maintaining high standards.


8 Characteristics of Professionalism

What are the attributes that will mark you out as a professional? Let’s look at eight key characteristics:


  1. Competence.  As a professional, you get the job done – and done well. Your abilities match the requirements of your role, and you often produce results that exceed expectations.  But you never plow on simply for the sake of appearances. Instead, your professionalism allows you to manage your own and others’ expectations, and to ask for support when necessary.


  1. Knowledge.  Professionalism involves developing detailed, up-to-date knowledge, which is often highly specialized. At every stage of your career you can strive to master your role – and keep adding to what you know.  It’s also important to put your knowledge into action. Being professional means feeling confident to show what you know – not for self-promotion, but to help yourself and others to succeed.


  1. Conscientiousness.  Professionalism involves being reliable, setting your own high standards, and showing that you care about every aspect of your job. It’s about being industrious and organized, and holding yourself accountable for your thoughts, words and actions.  But don’t confuse conscientiousness with working longer hours than everyone else, or obsessing about details. True professionals plan and prioritize their work to keep it under control, and they don’t let perfectionism hold them back.


  1. IntegrityIntegrity is what keeps professional people true to their word. It also stops them compromising their values, even if that means taking a harder road.  Integrity is bound up with being honest – to yourself, and to the people you meet. Your beliefs and behaviors are aligned, and everyone can see that you’re genuine.


  1. RespectProfessionalism means being a role model for politeness and good manners  – to everyone, not just those you need to impress.  What’s more, you show that you truly respect other people by taking their needs into account, and by helping to uphold their rights.


  1. Emotional IntelligenceTo be a true professional you need to stay professional even under pressure. This takes strategies for managing your emotions, plus a clear awareness of other people’s feelings. In short, emotional intelligence is essential.  Sometimes, professionalism means keeping your emotions in check. But at other times it’s important to express your feelings, in order to have meaningful conversations or to stand up for what you believe in.


  1. AppropriatenessA big part of being professional is knowing what’s appropriate in different situations. It avoids awkwardness or upset, boosts your credibility, and helps you to feel secure in your role.  Appropriateness relates to outward appearances, such as dress, personal grooming and body language.But it also covers the way you speak and write, the topics you choose to discuss, and how you behave with others.


  1. ConfidenceWell-founded confidence reassures and motivates other people, boosting your ability to influence and lead. It also pushes you to take on new challenges, because you don’t fear damaging your professional reputation if things go wrong.  Professionalism makes you confident about what you’re doing now, but always eager to do it better and achieve more.


How to Exhibit Professionalism

Now that we’ve seen the qualities that set professionals apart, let’s explore ways to improve in each of these eight areas.


Improve Your Competence

Carry out a Personal SWOT Analysis to identify your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Then set SMART goals to plan your improvement.  Our article, 8 Ways to Prioritize Your Professional Development, shows how to lead your own learning and growth. It also explains how to work with others to boost the competence of your whole team.


Increase Your Knowledge

Don’t let your knowledge and skills get outdated. Make a commitment to build expertise and to stay up-to-date with your industry.  As well as carrying out research, consider on-the-job training to maintain and develop detailed and relevant knowledge.  Use all the networking you do to stay well-informed about your industry as a whole.


Be Conscientious

Conscientiousness requires organization, so make regular use of To-Do Lists and Action Programs. You can also learn to be more conscientious by improving your concentration, to complete work more efficiently and accurately.  Resolve to honor your commitments and to learn from your mistakes, in order to develop strong personal accountability.


Role-Model Integrity

Start by defining your own values, then spot any gaps between them and the way you actually behave. Ensure that you’re clear about the laws that apply to your work, as well as any policies that your organization has in place to support ethical practices. These might include guidelines for fair procurement processes, or rules about accepting gifts from clients.  Whenever possible, explain your decisions and choices carefully. And do everything you can to make it easy for others to act with integrity, too.


Promote Mutual Respect

Make it a habit to be polite and kind to everyone you come into contact with. Notice what respectful behavior looks like in any given situation.  Sometimes you might need to develop your cultural understanding – and perhaps do some specific research before an overseas trip or an international meeting online.  You should also learn about any differences among your own people, so that you know how to help everyone feel safe, included and respected. A professional approach like this can help to create a culture of mutual respect.


Develop Your Emotional Intelligence

Start by increasing your awareness of your own emotions.  Then work on your ability to sense other people’s emotions and needs. Active Listening is crucial here. You can also practice seeing things from other people’s point of view, so that you empathize with them, and see how best to support them.





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