Unless you write “assassin” under your job description, most of the characteristics of a professional man boil down to simply treating other people with respect, no matter what the circumstances may be. It’s a good idea to make professionalism a part of your entire life, rather than just a set of guidelines you remember when you are monitored by HR. Suppose a year of Zoom mishaps has taught us anything. In that case, it’s that no one should be confident that switching off a camera or hitting the mute button is going to draw an impenetrable curtain between their private life and their professional one. Of course, not being allowed a separate private life can also be dehumanizing, but here are some general traits of professionalism for men who can cross that boundary line and help set it.
Here is the first principle of being a professional man for everyone who isn’t a con man: If you say you will do something, you need to do it. Sometimes, the scope of the work can evolve beyond what you signed up for. Anyone who has ever read those python in the toilet stories has probably put themselves in the boots of the plumber who showed up to handle a clog and wound up saddled with fanged wildlife, like some kind of nightmarish twist on Super Mario World. Nonetheless, a healthy chunk of professionalism comes from accumulating experience in what can go wrong and learning that there are many things that need to get done that aren’t really a part of anyone’s job. It’s important to set limits, but everybody hates the guy who makes a habit out of weaseling out of unexpected obstacles on a technicality. So even if you can’t solve the problem yourself, don’t just drop the plunger and bail on it altogether.
Since there is apparently an unlimited appetite for superhero movies, here’s a protagonist for you: the carpenter who managed an entire remodeling project without making a mess. Sure, telekinesis possesses a certain cinematic appeal. Still, for anybody who’s left a bathroom in ruins trying to install a simple towel rack, nothing stuns like the on-the-job tidiness of a man who brings his own broom and leaves with his own trash. A man who can do his job without distracting other people from doing their thing? Now that’s a consummate professional man. In the workplace, tidiness isn’t just about making sure other people don’t have to clean up your Excel sheets. It extends to your personal appearance, too. Just as that carpenter wasn’t afraid to use a broom, so you shouldn’t hesitate to bust out a gel moisturizer for oily skin, a comb, or a pressed shirt.
Part of being tidy is being prepared for the mess. You don’t want to lug around too much gear to function, but know how to pack your laptop bag and stock that dopp kit for men. Throw on a suit. And make sure you are mentally prepared as well. When you get flustered by something you didn’t expect, that’s when you tend to act unprofessionally. And you get more easily flustered when you are under stress, so keep tabs on your mental state and act like a professional man.
Prepare to be on time. Being late just means that you have made a bad first impression before you even got there. And if you are consistently late, people often assume that you don’t value their time or you can’t learn from your own mistakes. The actual reasons behind consistent tardiness can be a little more complex, but if anything, that makes it even more important to address. And don’t arrive on time only to spend the first half-hour trying to figure out how to get rid of dark circles under your eyes.
Few things are more annoying than having someone explain why they are qualified to tell you how to do your job differently, especially if it’s obvious that the experience doesn’t translate. It’s like if a man tells his pregnant wife that he’s an expert on delivery because he drives for Uber Eats, only to pass out as she goes into labor. And even if the credentials do check out, one of the best ways to expand expertise is to witness an alternative approach. If you made a mistake, own up to it. Make amends, not excuses. Avoid the kind of apology that explains why you were right but can understand how you were misunderstood. Be less worried about people needing further context on a past mistake and more concerned with not doing it in the future.
The etiquette might differ depending on hierarchy or familiarity, but the level of courtesy should be unchanging. Show compassion but respect boundaries. If you don’t know how you show empathy without invading personal space, that’s definitely something to work on.
It might sound like professionalism is a lot like being a decent human being. And that’s right. All the more so because it’s often not just your name on the line, but that of your colleagues as well. Come to think of it, what’s the downside to doing your part to restore a bit of faith in humanity? Don’t be the kind of guy whose first instinct is to snap a pic of the tighty-whitey wearing neighbor fleeing from his burning home. Quietly offer him a jacket and mean it when you ask if there is anything else you can do.
Featured Photo by Tamarcus Brown on Unsplash