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You’ve heard people say, “So and so is unprofessional.” You’ve probably said it. It gets said a lot.

The phrase can mean a number of things: among others, someone is incompetent, or someone behaves like an idiot or inappropriately.

Here’s the thing about the word “professional” (and by extension its nasty cousin, “unprofessional”): It is a vague catch all for behaviours or outcomes we don’t like.

The misuse – the vague nature of this word – has had a deleterious effect on a number of things. Most notable, are expression and play in work environments.

Expression, including swearing, is perfectly acceptable at work.

Play at work is antidote to stress and  a way to breed camaraderie.

But some people freak if you engage in either behaviour.


  • Get things done at work despite circumstances outside of it that may be rough.
  • Make learning – especially about their craft – part of their daily routine.
  • Ship regularly and without fear of failure.
  • Understand that people think and view the world differently and respect this.
  • Have discipline.

They also:

  • Understand that emotion is part of life.
  • Understand that play is essential to a good working environment.

What I am saying is that “professional” does not mean buttoned down, tight assed, boring, edgeless, or bland. Quite the contrary in fact.

What do you think?

Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • I think *you* are a professional, Jackson. 😉

    To me, a professional is someone who treats business as business, yet realizes that business is conducted by human beings, and behaves accordingly. So it’s someone who is everything you described above, maximizes personal AND professional opportunities to the benefit of the business/work, yet does not do so unethically.

    Professionals adhere to an ethical code that, cheesy as it may sound, says, “I’ll do what it takes, but I won’t do it if it kills my soul – or yours.” And they have the guts to say that gracefully, and walk away from the business/opportunity, if need be.

    If we don’t have our professionalism, what else do we have?

  • Sam Title says:

    I think the term has been applied to external factors as well. My particular audience/readership prefers working from a coffee shop (Coffice, as is now the term; Cofficers for those who do it).

    An office preference should not predetermine whether a person is professional or unprofessional. Times have changed and technology has advanced enough that the walls of a downtown cubicle are not always necessary.

    I could get into the whole dress code debate, but I think Shonali would be better suited (<- see that?) for that task.

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