The Fluidity of ‘Professionalism’
Paolo Giuricich, Organisation Development Consultant
When January comes around, new plans are in place and everyone feels reinvigorated and optimistic for the year to come. It’s almost a miracle how suddenly people feel motivated and mentally ready, purely because the calendar shows a different date. It seems that all of us crave these symbolic moments of change and the sense of a fresh start.
Part of my role as Organisation Development Advisor is to help people navigate their workplace by maintaining behaviour and attitudes that are deemed ‘professional’. But what does ‘acting professionally’ even mean? Professionalism is a very broad term – so broad, in fact, that for many its essential meaning and purpose has been lost.
At the beginning of the new year, I’m usually in charge of sorting new hires, something which always brings to my mind the nature of professionalism – what does it really mean for the modern worker? This year, I made up my mind to study the area a little closer than usual and drew some interesting conclusions from my discoveries.
“what does being professional really mean for the modern worker?”
I first applied my renewed mindset to a brand new client: a fresh industry with fresh working relationships to be formed. The first, and perhaps the most important thing I observed was that exposing vulnerabilities early on (rather than presenting the staunch, impassive face of traditional ‘professionalism’) was actually more effective for building trust. This is because it helps people relate to one another on a human level and makes them more relaxed and inclined to open up and trust you.
I continued to build my understanding when working alongside a co-facilitator, with whom I already had a relationship. Rather than discussing the nature of the job at hand, which we already knew we could do, we committed our time to working out how we could work together and delegate in order to benefit the group as a whole. It was a quick and informal chat; although we would be considered ‘professionals’ in our field, we both deemed it necessary to talk frankly and on a human level in order to build on the already-established trust, and get the job done efficiently and effectively.
“The first, and perhaps the most important thing I observed was that exposing vulnerabilities early on (rather than presenting the staunch, impassive face of traditional ‘professionalism’) was actually more effective for building trust.”
Working from a base of trust and honesty, we were better able to get to the crux of the project and make plans to accommodate any challenges that might come along. This improved our confidence in our approach and enabled us to deliver a stronger collaborative service overall.
By incorporating human values and vulnerabilities within the professional conversation, you improve the connection and understanding between one another and invite honesty from all parties. This creates an honest image of yourself within a professional setting and encourages people to see you for what you are truly capable of. You also waste less energy trying to maintain an aloof image, which can be better directed on doing the best job possible!
The term ‘professionalism’ is fluid – indeed, I consider it to have a different meaning for every company and culture, and it’s important to recognise this as we move towards a more versatile working
environment in the future.
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