Can one learn professionalism?

I believe so, but after some recent encounters and incidents, I’ve come to believe more strongly that certain personalities are inclined towards bearing a professional attitude than others. What I’m saying is that you can put 10 guys through the same course to teach "professional behaviour", but only a few will really "get it".

Honestly, this sort of posting can be quite damning to myself. After all, goodness knows how many times I’ve been perceived by others in a negative light and not meeting expectations.

But my penny for my thoughts – here’s how I’d like to define professionalism:

1. The ability to make a promise and keep it.

2. Sticking through with a promise even though everything else is falling apart.

3. Being comfortable in your own skin and confident of your skills and the job you do. (On a side note, I’ve just met a few people who obviously have no interest in their job and it really shows)

4. Executing your responsibilities the way everyone expects you to, and a bit more lah. Some people go for the lowest common denominator approach, but professionals go for the highest benchmark.

5. The most difficult bit here – having others see the above points and recognise your professionalism. How is this part of professionalism? Well, if other people can’t describe you as being professional, then you probably aren’t!


Some side-effects of being "professional" are as follows, largely in the way others may perceive you, rightly or wrongly:

1. You are seen as being really uptight. After all, why can’t you be more relaxed and less rigid about things?

2. You get really frustrated with the state of the world. After all, nobody is beholden to your self-inflicted standards right? Who died and made you king anyway?

3. You start thinking "why can’t others be ‘professional’ in their dealings?" But as I was discussing with Gin Lee today over tea, often, people don’t know better about the way they should have handled matters.

Which all begs the question why we should strive to be professional in the first place. To me, it ties in with why I like to complain all the time – things could be better, and we should seek to change things for the better, not just gripe about it and have status quo gobble us up.


PS: I don’t understand why if you work in some professions, you are automatically a "professional". Eg. "Hi, I’m a PR professional." "Hi, I am a professional speaker". The P word is often misused in this case. I’ve seen some kopitiam cleaners being way more professional than the rich people they clean up after.

3 Replies to “Can one learn professionalism?”

  1. A lot of times, it is not a question of “can”. It is a question of “do you want to?”. Of course people can be professional, just follow the steps strictly and accomplish what one’s suppose to do. But does one want to be professional? What’s the motivation to be professional?

    Service standards in Singapore is always being complained about. There are ways to improve the service standards. Examples of good service can be found everywhere, can be easily learned. Certainly it’s not hard to follow through the steps, like a simple gesture of a waiter asking a diner how the meal was. It can be learned.

    Does one want to achieve that?

    What’s the motivation?

  2. Teoh, well, you’re right, but I feel that the “do you want to” portion is sometimes overshadowed by the “can” portion.

    My theory is that some people are predisposed to being more professional than others. Their personality probably dictates that they’re more perfectionist or are intensely proud of their work, hence the same level of motivation (money, pride, peer pressure etc) will not produce the same levels of professionalism.

    However, all this pales next to the situation when people BELIEVE they are professionals just because of their profession, yet are unable to meet service standards of the bare minimum.

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