Taking the high road

AT A recent training session, an interesting question that made everyone put his or her thinking cap on "what is professionalism" came up. The answers were varied but there seemed to be a general lack of succinct understanding of the concept.

There was also a misconception that anyone who is in a profession, like a doctor or a lawyer, is a professional.

To start with, let us clarify something — just because one is in a profession, s/he automatically does not exhibit professionalism; by the same token, someone who exhibits professionalism need not necessarily be in any particular profession. So, what is professionalism?

In a very rudimentary, general sense, professionalism is all about the following concepts exhibited through behaviour and attitude: a focused approach, pride in what one is doing, confidence, competence, accountability, respect for people irrespective of rank, status and gender, responsibility while on the path of achieving a particular goal, commitment to word and deed, control of emotions, not compromising on rules and ethics while performing a task — well, you are beginning to get the idea now.

Basically, it all boils down to staying focused on the issue at hand, no matter what the provocation and no matter how stressful and trying a situation turns out to be; you leave out emotional upheavals.

Cool as a cucumber while keeping the total focus on what one is supposed to be doing and accomplishing.

It is a state of being disciplined and striking a perfect balance between task and people orientation.

You will be exhibiting professionalism if you:

* Understand and accept the fact that you are there to accomplish a definite task. The completion of the task itself is done with complete integrity, commitment and pride in the job.

* Base business-related interactions to facts, figures, logic and understanding of the situation at hand.

Do not get carried away by the passion of the moment.

Emotions vary by individual sensibilities and of course, by cultures. So, stay focused and keep bringing the person gently back to the issues. Otherwise, you will lose complete control over yourself and the situation.

* Listen with empathy, which will help you understand the situation and the person on the other side of the table.

* A business interaction has a purpose and a goal. An excessive amount of jocularity or "kidding around" will be seen as flippant.

That does not mean that you pack up your natural sense of humour. Be mindful of when you are crossing the line. There is a tasteful limit to everything. Be aware of the fact that humour that is not timely is seen as irreverence. The ideal is a light humour at the appropriate time, combined with complete seriousness while moving towards the goal that is demanded of the interaction. Understand your "corporate culture" and function within its parameters. Every business must develop its own identity and make sure that it is understood and translated in behaviour by the employees. All the corporate policies otherwise will remain just that, policies on paper.

* Understand how to treat superiors, peers and subordinates with the utmost courtesy and in the proper accepted norms. That will differentiate you from the rest by giving you the cutting edge.

More than your technical expertise and academic accomplishments, you will be remembered and admired for your strict codes of conduct in your interactions.

The whole concept of professionalism can be very confusing with so many concepts going into it. It is not something that is measured in any test where you are given scores.

It is there in a subtle way making a statement about you, while others are constantly taking down notes on you. For starters, stick with all the ideas given here and you should be able to survive any professional situation with great professionalism!


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