What does “professional” actually mean?

When you start working you hear the work “professional” a lot.

“It’s a professional environment.”
“Thank you for your professionalism.”
“That’s not professional!”
“Please dress professionally.”
“He’s so unprofessional!”

What does “professional” actually mean? Is it about how you look, how you behave, about the work you are doing? What’s the right way of acting at work?
The dictionary says it means “showing skill and careful attention”.
But does it mean different things to different people, coming from different countries, working in different environments? This attitude, this code, is something that every person should be aware of.

All these questions made me curious and in an attempt to better understand this concept, I asked some people I know what they personally think it means. Here’s what they said:

“To be professional means to adopt a behavior regarding a context in which both parts are expecting to respect some rules and to have a mutual commitment for a common goal. For me It involves values as responsibility, respect, communication & commitment.”
-Recruiter, 25-

“For me personally, professionalism is a term that is hard to define specifically since the meaning of the term can vary from situation to situation. In my opinion, everyone should strive to be professional in any situation at any moment of the day. Whatever you say or do, I believe you should always take into account the consequences of your words and actions. Imagine you in the other person’s situation and imagine what you would like the other person to do. If you would not agree or not feel comfortable/happy/… with his/her action(s) or word(s), then simply adapt what you wanted to do to this. Of course, I am aware of the fact that we are no rational human beings and we do make mistakes from time to time, but I believe this should be something everybody should strive too.”
-Recruiter, 24-

“To keep your word, to be fair, to be punctual, to be dressed according to the office culture, to not enter the personal sphere of anyone you are dealing with.”
-Young professional, 25-

“Having the skills to do your job, putting these skills into practice successfully, being honest, taking responsibility for one’s actions and being emotionally strong. Also, knowing how to dress for success.”
-Professional, 63-

“It means acting in an organized manner, based on experience and it also means knowing how to set and prioritize objectives.”
-Young professional, 25-

“For me, to be professional means that the person needs to develop very well his/her job independently of his/her believes. In my opinion, the performance of the person is linked with her/his passion and motivation about the job. This is the main key of being a good professional or a bet professional. However, this motivation can’t obfuscate the person’s perception, otherwise he/she will start to make bad decisions. This love for the job needs to be enough to push this person and keep her/his eyes open for the rest of the world movement.”
-Young professional, 28-

“It refers to one’s capacity to handle situations in order to deliver results of high quality.”
-Young professional, 25-

“It means showing interest for the work you are doing, not taking criticisms personally and contributing to a pleasant and productive atmosphere in the workplace.”
-Young professional 25-

“To act professionally means being responsible when it comes to your work and behaving in a way that has a positive impact on others as well as on society and the environment.”
-Young professional, 25-

“In my opinion, to be professional means to take your job seriously. To be responsible and respectful to the company, your colleagues and your partners. Focus in your goals and try to reach them.”
-Recruiter, 26-

“Being professional means acting knowing exactly what you are doing and with great respect of the person in front of you.”
-Recruiter, 23-

“It means discipline, experience and self-confidence.”
-Young professional, 26

“Being professional means doing things correctly and acting in a confident, competent manner.”
-Young professional, 27-

“So for me it is finding a golden mean between a right behavior and striving for excellence to achieve a success.”
-Recruiter, 24-

“Acting to a standard expected in the workplace.”
-Young professional, 23-

to deliver a good work where all parties are happy with and where your job is done in the correct way. I also think that if you want to be professional in your job, you also need to have some background information and knowledge.”
-Recruiter, 26-

“It means looking put together and giving the impression of knowing what you are doing.”
-Young professional, 23-

“Being professional means doing things right, in the best way possible.”
-Young professional, 24-

“For me professional means being dedicated to the things you do, to walk the extra mile, to be reliable and empathetic towards the people you work with.”
-Young professional, 23-

“For me it’s striving to accomplish your task and putting aside your emotions and personal beliefs.”
-Young professional, 22-

“To be professional means to do your best in fulfilling your work, without involving emotions and personal feelings or thoughts.”
-Young professional, 21-

“It’s doing things and aiming for achievements and acknowledgement in your line of profession.”
-Young professional. 23-

“I think it means to act or react in a way you normally wouldn’t in order to maintain a productive working atmosphere.”
-Young professional, 25-

“I would say the most important thing is thinking about how all your actions and words will come across and the way other will respond to you.”
-Young professional, 22-

“Professionalism is the ability to balance personal opinion with constructive and relative feedback.
Someone who is professional should act thoughtfully, consider the impact of their suggestions and criticisms at all time.”
-Young professional, 23-

“Acting in a professional way means simply focusing on your work in a very competent manner. If something external interferes, a professional person makes all the effort so that there is a minimum disturbance, so that “work can go on”. It also means having a lot of respect for the people you are dealing with and the company culture. Maybe also knowing what and when to say or not say.”
-Recruiter, 25-

What do you think? Are you professional at work?

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