We know a professional when we see one. Yet, what are the real qualities that differentiate a person as a professional? It certainly doesn’t lie in their title or their job duties because we all know highly professional and unprofessional people at all levels and in diverse fields.
I recently spoke with a client group on the subject of being a professional. Here are the five qualities we discussed that differentiate true professionals from the rest of the pack.
1. Professionals ask smart questions.
Smart questions are those questions that help us learn how to improve for our customers, how to understand our leader’s thought process, or how to offer the best solution for someone’s needs. And we’ve all heard the saying, “There’s no such thing as a dumb question,” but questions that only benefit us or ones that we could figure out the answer to ourselves (if we took the time) are self-serving and rarely benefit our customers, teammates, or leaders.
2. Professionals communicate with care.
Using slang and being lazy with our grammar is fine on Facebook or in casual conversations with friends, but when interacting with co-workers or customers, we need to remember that our words and how we say them impacts how others view us (I’m looking at you, my fellow fast-talking Southern friends!). And above all and for goodness sake, stop talking long enough to listen! Listening is vital to good communication and it’s also something most of us don’t do enough.
3. Professionals are worthy of being imitated.
Are your actions worth following? Does your talk match your walk? This is where competence (your ability to do your job and do it well) and character (your moral qualities) are critical. A professional must have both.
4. Professionals pay attention to their image and etiquette.
Now, those who know me know I’m no etiquette snob! I do, however, have standards that I always strive to adhere to. We all determine our own boundaries. I’d encourage you to set yours (before you get in the situation) and faithfully adhere to them. You’ll be glad you did. Here are some ideas:
- When does a professional relationship get too close?
- What you do when you’re off the clock
- What’s the appropriate dress for your profession?
5. Professionals handle challenges…professionally.
It’s not a matter of if we’ll face challenges at work…it’s how we’ll handle them. Professionals take responsibility for their actions and face negative news with a level head. They don’t make excuses for mistakes or poor decisions, and they never throw their teammates under the bus.
Professionalism, like so many other leader traits, is one that we can easily learn by being aware of our actions and how what we do and say impacts and influences others.