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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

How do you describe professionalism?

Updated: Jul 4, 2023

group of professionals

Were you ever instructed on how to be a “professional”?

In our nutrition communications course at Purdue, I included a class period on this topic at the start of the semester. Students were assigned a reading describing the results of an annual survey conducted by the Center for Professional Excellence at York College of Pennsylvania. They were also expected to contribute to our discussion of what constituted professional behavior by finding one additional source.

We discussed how to address people, standards of conduct and dress, and compared the qualities considered professional and unprofessional. Students often expressed gratitude for clearly delineating expectations. After all, 10% of their final grade was based on professionalism.

What is a professional?

The dictionary defines a professional as someone who works in an occupation requiring specialized knowledge and skills. However, we generally elevate the meaning and consider professionals to be those who perform their job with a level of expertise that delivers excellence and with a strong character that garners respect resulting in a positive reputation.

Look at the image and consider all of the various types of professionals you encounter. When you seek someone to design a new home, you hire an architect, not a pilot or a dentist. You hire an accountant to do your taxes and a chef to cater a reception. What do people hire you to do? Do you perform your work with professionalism?

Chapter 2 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide discusses the critical role that professionalism and integrity play in developing and displaying a nutrition communicator’s credibility. “Communicators who exhibit professionalism and integrity will be highly respected and will have greater influence and impact.” Professionalism represents you and your profession in the best possible way.

How do you describe professionalism?

There are certainly many qualities and attributes that can be used. For my 20th tip series, I describe 5 overriding principles for professionalism. Does your list agree?

5 principles of professionalism:

#1 Demonstrate respect

First and foremost, a professional demonstrates respect. The professional considers what will make others comfortable and will build trust. This includes a well-groomed appearance and appropriate dress. It includes word choice that speaks to their audience without offending, condemning, or condescending. A professional demonstrates an attitude of confident humility.

#2 Show up and follow-through

A professional can be counted on. They show up and follow through. They are punctual and prepared. They persevere until a task is complete. They demonstrate a strong work ethic and pull their weight on a team. They are responsible. They are focused. They seek to help others succeed to reach collective goals. Professionals are reliable. They fulfill what they promise.

#3 Demonstrate competence

A professional demonstrates competence. They are always learning and building their knowledge and skills. When they speak, they back up what they say with evidence, examples, and experience. They work within their area of expertise and refer to others when asked to perform outside their scope of practice. A professional can be trusted.

#4 Communicate with empathy and confidence

A professional communicates with empathy as well as confidence. This requires stepping inside the thoughts and feelings of others. It means listening first, and listening well. It means responding thoughtfully rather than reactively. A professional has the confidence to hear opposing views, find common ground, and present the truth with warmth and competence.

#5 Hold to the highest standard

When each of these principles was shared separately on social media, #2 elicited the greatest response. We must encounter too many “professionals” who do NOT show up and follow through. Don’t be that one. Instead, be known as the one who exhibits all five of these principles and rises above the mediocre crowd. You can download your free copy of the tip sheet.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” ~ Warren Buffett

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