“Professional” – the most misunderstood, misused and abused word

You may be professional, but what do you actually DO that makes you professional? How can people see you are professional?

If you Google the definition of professional, you find an eclectic mix of definitions, most not contributing to your understanding of what the term means.

In the accommodation and tourism industry people often define themselves as professional because of how they greet guests, or how they dress, or whether they show respect to their patrons.

Service businesses tend to view themselves as professional if they deliver on time or on the agreed standard.

Product providers call themselves professionals if their products have a low return rate, or a high satisfaction percentage among users.

If all these were true, most businesses and people would be professional, or professionals.

Surely the general standard of service delivery in any industry cannot be the requirement for being considered professional? Average can never be professional.

If we could remove the general “watering down” of terms by giving it content based on the minimum standard we are comfortable with, many words, including “professional”, would not just enrich our language, but also give us a proper structure within which we could evaluate people’s contribution to promoting excellence in our society.

If your product or service is not outstanding, there is little benefit in misusing language that describes the outstanding for describing the average. Your product or service is below average, average or above average. They cannot all be professional.

A definition of professional I heard long ago but don’t see any more, is “professionalism is when you continuously, without fail, do something above the prevailing standard”. That definition requires you to be on top of your game without fail. The moment you act in a way that is the same as what is already available, or below the available standard, you lose your professionalism. Then you need to start working towards becoming professional again.

In general, professionalism would mean that you do something to a standard that is not prevalent in your industry, business or area. And you can only be the most professional if you alone act on a certain standard. Other people can be professional if their actions are above the standard that is generally available. But everyone who acts to a standard already reached by others, is not above, but on standard. If you act on standard, it may be acceptable, but it cannot claim professionalism.

A service can be professional but I still look for an example of a professional product. It may be professionally manufactured (on an unequalled standard) but in itself, a product does not seem to me to have the ability to be professional.

It seems to me professionalism can only exist if it can be measured to enable comparison with something that exists. If it can be measured and compared, it can be classified.

Example of professionalism: we deliver faster than our competition

Example of claimed professionalism (but isn’t): we deliver on time

Professionalism seems more something we strive for, than something we possess.

What has professionalism become?

If you Google “examples of professionalism”, you will find something completely different from what I discussed.

It seems “professionalism” has become a description for “expected” as in expected dress code, expected reliability, expected competence, ethics, etiquette, honesty, specialised knowledge and a host of other descriptions. Professionalism, it seems, has become the new word for “up to standard”.

Then the question is: what am I if I constantly act in a way that is above the industry standard?

So, what is the one thing you are going to do to make your service professional?

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