Working in an enterprise environment one hears talk of professionalism all the time. We need to present professional looking applications to our customers. We need to wear professional looking clothing. We need to send professional emails to each other and people outside our corporation. We're all professionals here.

Donning a professional appearance is easy. We all know the clothing that has been somehow defined as professional compared to other more casual or even "trashy" clothing. We know that an application or website that is well laid out, easy to read and easy to navigate is considered professional. These are very general definitions of what makes the aforementioned items professional, but what is the general definition of what makes a person professional?

There are some commonly known actions we can pull from in order to try to define what makes a professional person.

  • Treat people respectfully upon meeting and talk to them not at them
  • Keep criticisms constructive and free of personal attacks
  • Speak to a person like you respect the fact they are your equal (a human being).

So what are these? These are basic tips on how to be a decent person. This list is be no means complete, but I was just hoping to give an idea of what I'm getting at. Basically the first steps to acting professionally is to act like a decent human being. Treat people with respect, think about what you are about to say before you say it, consider how another person might feel about what you're going to say. Something that may not seem offensive to you may be completely insulting and demeaning to someone with a different upbringing or outlook on life.

The event that gave me the idea to write about professionalism is that I was hit right in the face with someone claiming to be a professional but ended up breaking the rules of professionalism quite badly.

The email was initiated like so:

I want to achieve a level of polish that I feel is professional and that I would be comfortable demoing outside of our group if required.  I don’t think we are there yet.

First off the "I" language implying that regardless of the fact we are on the same team, this is the senders show. Treating people equally, especially in a team situation is imperative.

Right after that the sender went into a tirade on why the body of work was unprofessional in his opinion.

  • Those icons are F-ugly...they look like a 2 year old cropped them out of some picture online.
  • Most pages just look like a bunch of text floating around
  • ...and also feel it’s the start of something unmanageable. I’m scared to look at the query. As I wonder if it is an impending performance nightmare.

All these were said with not having given anything constructive on suggestions to fix OR even WHY he thinks these things. The last bullet point was the one that really got me. Openly admitting that it MUST be changed without even looking at what he was criticising. The irony of making changes in the name of professionalism using this language was so thick I could taste it.

So how did I respond? Well, originally I had a big long email written in the heat of the moment, I was quite insulted that my hard work and the hard work of the team was being outright trashed. Luckily I decided to go for a walk before pressing send. When I came back I wrote what I thought was a very professional and respectful response. To sum it up, I just said outright that I felt insulted and I know that I and other team members have put a great deal of work into the project being called out. I asked him to review and give explicit examples of things he felt needed fixing. Also, if he'd like to sit down and go over it together I was open to doing so.

In his defence after my reply he came back saying sorry and made some excuses about the team being lazy in recent history. So at least he had the decency to apologize. I'm still waiting to go over the project.

I'm still wondering exactly what it takes to be a professional, but I'm hoping my goal to just act like a decent human being will set me on the right path.