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Professionalism at its most basic involves respect. It includes respect for clients, colleagues, bosses and for the company. Professionals take pride in doing their work well and according to the standards established by their industry. Professionalism requires moderating one's behavior to come into line with the expectations and needs of the role one plays in the workplace. It can be demanding. In many instances, professionalism can be constraining and create role conflict and personal discomfort. However, people who display professionalism will receive respect in return and are often rewarded for the high expectations they have met.
Although it can be challenging to establish boundaries in personal relationships, it is essential to establish boundaries in the workplace. Everyone has a role to play in an organization. Professional behavior helps separate business from the personal; it keeps relationships limited to the business context at hand. For example, a judge cannot have personal conversations with a plaintiff or defendant. Bank tellers represent the institution as they perform transactions for the customers. No one finds it offensive when a teller checks a client's math or his accounting of cash. The role demands it and professional behavior makes it clear that the teller is simply doing his job.
A professional works in her employer's or client's interests. She may not always agree with decisions or enjoy what she's doing but in order to do right by the person engaging her services, she does her job ably. If a professional doesn't like her work or agree with her employers, she should probably consider a new job. However, the idea is to always act ethically by taking fiduciary duties and loyalties seriously.
Taking the high road can be a challenge. Those practicing professionalism always strive to keep their personal feelings in check and show respect, even to those who are disrespectful or rude. For example, a good customer service professional doesn't argue with an irate customer. Instead, he listens and addresses the customer's concerns. Even though an irate customer may irritate him or demonstrate a lack of respect, a customer service representative understands that becoming angry and making the situation personal will only worsen things and lower his professional standing.
People respect someone who takes pride in her work. Whether she's shining shoes or running a multinational corporation, someone who values professionalism does the best work she can at all times. Dedication, integrity and responsibility are elements of professionalism that make a person successful in her field. By taking ownership of their roles and duties, professionals make names for themselves and usually find promotion, opportunities and repeat business come easily to them.
Eric Feigenbaum started his career in print journalism, becoming editor-in-chief of "The Daily" of the University of Washington during college and afterward working at two major newspapers. He later did many print and Web projects including re-brandings for major companies and catalog production.