Being a professional means different things to different people.  It’s probably not something you think about every day and it’s probably something you think only applies to your work.

It is true that someone’s profession is what he or she is paid to do, and this is what can lead up to that prevalent idea that professionalism only applies to what one is paid for.  However, if we take our daily lives and apply the standards of professionalism to every area, our chances of being more professional at work increase because our good habits follow us throughout the day instead of checking out at five.

How can we be more professional in our chosen vocation, and how might we apply these principles in our personal lives for the betterment of ourselves and the sanity of those around us?

Listen: It’s very important that we not only hear what is being told to us, but that we understand and fully comprehend what is being communicated.  Receiving information is much more important than giving information, no matter what your role is.  From the CEO of a company to the intern in the mailroom, listening is the most important skill one might have.  It needs to be practiced and appreciated.  It needs to become part of who you are.

A great listener not only pays attention to what is being spoken, a great listener is active. In a conversation he turns towards the speaker, makes eye contact, and makes it very plain the speaker is his current priority.  He doesn’t act distracted and he doesn’t try to form a rebuttal.  He simply tries to absorb what is being said and asks for clarification when necessary so that his responses properly consider the issues being raised.

Have empathy: A great listener tries to gain empathy for the speaker.  What is empathy?  There are several levels of empathy, from being able to literally feel someone’s pain to having a similar experience which allows those feelings to rush back.  Is this the kind of empathy every listener needs?  No.  However, empathy on a lower level means simply trying to put yourself into someone else’s shoes.  Empathy is trying to step outside of one’s self and seeing things from another’s point of view.

Humans have a very hard time doing this.  In some cases it is nearly impossible, especially where cultures differ to such a degree that world-views seem incompatible. However, the least we can do is try.  It’s possible we might learn something new.  Should someone come to you and complain about something you think is hardly worth your time, give it another look.  Maybe, should you put yourself in his place, you’ll have a more clear understanding of the problem and be in a position to offer a solution that’s acceptable to both of you.

Find and propose solutions:  It’s easy to complain, and it’s easy to get a bad attitude because we poison our minds with complaints.  A true professional is always looking to find resolutions instead of problems. When a problem arises and it comes time to bring it up to someone else you feel can make a difference, don’t just describe the problem.  Offer possible solutions.  Your solution may or may not be used, but it may become the seed for addressing the problem and you will be perceived as a problem solver, not a complainer.  Nobody should want to be known as a complainer.

Be trustworthy:  In your profession it pays to know what you’re talking about.  If you do not know the answer to something, don’t make it up.  Research and find the right answer.  If your child asks you why the sky is blue, don’t lie about it.  Maybe you’ll learn something by not making stuff up, and your child will trust you as a person who won’t give her a bum steer.  The same goes for your spouse, boss, and customers.

Be honest:  In line with being trustworthy, it’s also important that you be honest, even when no one is looking.  Why? Whether you’re religious or not, someone is always looking: You.  When you ‘get away with something’ you degrade your integrity as a human being.  You begin to rationalize your actions. Honesty becomes less of a priority.  Without integrity, you are no longer in control of your destiny. Instead, your wishes, wants, and vices control your destiny and they may take you places you eventually regret.  Always be honest.

Ask the right questions:  Knowing the answers may be fine, but asking the right questions is a far more valuable talent, and it’s one you can cultivate and grow.  When you problem-solve or troubleshoot, if you cannot ask the right questions, knowing the right answers will do you no good because they won’t really apply to the problem at hand nor lead to a good solution.

Be respectful:  No matter what your relationship is with someone, whether you’re a parent or boss or a spouse or friend or a customer or neighbor or stranger, realize that you are not more special or deserving than anyone else.  Everyone has a right to live and be happy.  It is not your place to berate anyone or be disrespectful just because you’re having a bad day, or just because you’re the one paying for a service, or just because you’re the one in charge, or because you’re so sure you’re right.  A true professional is respectful to everyone he comes across.

Be forgiving:  Everyone has bad days, including you.  We’ve all said things we’ve later regretted, and it is wonderful to be forgiven our transgressions.  It is even better to be the one who has a chance to be magnanimous.

Be thankful: Entitlement is the opposite of gratitude and it breeds contempt, so gratitude will breed goodwill.  Gratitude is one of our most short-lived emotions and requires effort on our part to keep it alive.  Gratitude will put complaints in proper perspective.  Gratitude will foster feelings of friendship and cooperation.  Gratitude will help you to appreciate what you have.  Gratitude generates action, allowing us to pay things forward as well as back. Gratitude is a multiplier for good in this world and will give you a positive reputation.  People will want to help you and be on your side if you are a truly grateful person.

Have a plan:  In line with asking the right questions, having goals and a plan to achieve them will increase the likelihood your projects will succeed and that you’ll have a purposeful and rewarding life.

We all have areas we want to improve in our lives and careers but sometimes just are at a loss as to what to do.  Having a more professional outlook using the precepts above is worth a closer look.

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