Everything Else

Un-professional?

I enjoy words, which is why I’ve made a career playing with them.

Though some words are irritating. There’s a bit of business-speak that has bugged me most of my career.

It’s the misappropriation of the word ‘professional’. Too often, people have used the word in a business setting to suggest impersonal conformity of behavior.

Speak the same. Dress the same. Think the same. Act the same.

The subtext is clear: if you don’t conform, you’re ‘unprofessional’.

Hang on. It’s a bit like confusing ‘mature’ with ‘conservative’.

I thought you became professional when you gained the specialist qualifications, knowledge, and experience to do something skillfully – for money. I also thought experts were people who were outstanding with outstanding opinions.  But how can you be outstanding if you conform?

In interview after interview with small business owners, a common opinion emerges: be yourself if you want to enjoy true success. Yes, you can make money without doing that, though we’re often told you’ll do better if you make the most of yourself. Be true. And, if you can, surround yourself with individuals with different personalities who can do special things you can’t do.

Conformity might be necessary to direct large workforces or armies of people to perform the same task over and over. However, most of us in small businesses need to do lots of different things and do those things differently from other people if we want to succeed.

Our friends in big business are wise to this too. Some of them have recently made a big deal about the value of human relationships within their organizations, with their business partners, and most of all, with their customers.

They’re saying they’re different. They’re saying they deal with people as individuals. Some are dropping the conformist ‘corporate speak’ too. They’re saying they speak our language (look up ‘corporate communication’ on Wikipedia and you’ll see the article is marked for a rewrite because it ‘may be confusing or unclear to readers’). They also seem to be saying that the age of impersonal conformity – something plenty of people still associate with the corporate world – is coming to an end.

If they can do it, we can too.

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