By Douglas Ross
Many people, outside the recognized professions, promote themselves as professionals. But are they? What are the key elements of professionalism? The answers from people around the world may surprise you.
Alan Lockhart from Iowa asked the following question in Linkedin, a network of professionals from across the world:
“How do you define professionalism and what are the key elements in your mind?”
Alan expressed two concerns in the rationale for the question. First; he wanted to know if the term was purely subjective and therefore meaningless. Second; he wanted to know if people were confusing professionalism with the politically correct qualities of calmness, detachment and conflict avoidance.
The answers were grouped into natural themes. The first major theme centered on the domain of personal integrity. The second major theme surprisingly was conflict resolution.
Most people chose personal integrity as the most important quality of professionalism. They used two major manners of expression –idioms/ proverbs, and the idea of virtues.
Idioms are phrases that do not mean exactly what they say. For example, one person said “character was what you did in the dark” while another said “walk the talk.” Proverbs are wise sayings that help teach a lesson. People quoted sayings such as “practice what you preach” and” treat others as you would have them treat you.”
A virtue is the disposition to conform to what is morally, ethically or legally right. People espoused their belief in ideals such as honor, courage, commitment, accountability, excellence and duty. They essentially said that anything like the seven deadly sins were wrong (lust, greed, gluttony, sloth, wrath, envy and pride) while anything with the seven virtues was right. The seven virtues are justice, temperance, prudence, fortitude, faith, hope and charity.
The second major theme was about conflict. People clearly identified the importance of good internal and external conflict resolution skills as an essential ingredient of professionalism.
Superior internal conflict resolution skills were needed to balance a multitude of personal conflicts between needs and actions. For example, how did one handle conflicts between work and family commitments, individual and team rewards, short term financial rewards and the long term erosion of their customer base?
External conflict resolution strategies were a theme, especially in light of Alan’s concern about the confusing professionalism with political correctness. There was a preoccupation to ensure that others saw them as responding correctly in dealings with customers and in emotionally challenging situations.
This was illustrated in comments about how people wrestled with the idea of telling the truth and being courteous and respectful. Others recommended that professionals are never vindictive and need to be “bereft of a petty punitive nature”.
Finally; some comments emphasized the fact that discretion was the better part of valor and advocated walking away from conflict.
Alan’s concern about confusing professionalism with political correctness is well founded. This was and is an element of political correctness where the real issue is ignored, denied or deferred in order to keep the peace and avoid any unpleasant repercussions in any external situations. People who remain detached or avoid conflict are not necessarily professionals. They could simply be simply incompetent at conflict resolution or are choosing the flight option in the fight or flight theory of conflict.
I think an important truth that Alan’s question evoked was that professionals have superior internal and external conflict resolution ability. True professionals are more concerned with being good than looking good. They have the courage to face reality and speak the truth in a relationship where doing the right thing is a virtue and not a vice.
This is integrity.
Want to learn more. Read my next article on integrity and professionalism.
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