People are sometimes described as unprofessional by their colleagues or associates when they have a trait or characteristic that stands out—-typically in an unflattering way. Consider:
***the woman with the shrill laugh who seemingly thinks everything is funny (her colleagues initially found this trait to be cute, but over time became repelled by it)
***the man who is naturally inquisitive and incessantly asks questions. (his peers quickly found this to be aggravating)
***the supervisor (someone who happened to have a hearing disability) that speaks especially loudly—even when having one-on-one conversations in close quarters. ( even understanding his condition, the staff never quite got used to this and too often felt like they were being yelled at—inappropriately so)
If asked, how would you describe these individuals? Or what if you were an executive recruiter and one of these people becomes a serious candidate for a position you’re attempting to fill. As a professional, how do describe (objectively so) the individual to your hiring manager client? After all, what you say holds sway with the hiring manager. Say something inappropriate (or misleading) and you could torpedo the candidate.
Sometimes we’re inclined to describe these types of individuals as unprofessional. And that inclination is often fueled from our own emotional reaction to them (the importance of mind-set six, once again, raises its head). From my point of view, when someone has a trait or characteristic that stands out in an unflattering way, it doesn’t make them unprofessional. ‘Un’ means without or the opposite of. In effect, in describing someone as unprofessional it suggests that the person has virtually no professionalism. It would be a rare circumstance in which that would be true.
Plus, when you suggest someone is unprofessional it suggests that you can’t trust them—whether it be their competence, their judgment, or their character (for more on this see Chapter Four in The Power of Professionalism). Having a defining personal trait (however annoying) typically doesn’t have much to do with their professionalism and, by default, their trustworthiness. Simply said, transposing someone’s personality with their character does that person a disservice—and does not reflect well on us as a professional.
When describing someone who has a trait or characteristic that is unflattering, consider describing them as a bit unpolished, needing greater refinement, or something analogous which is appropriate to the situation.
Take first impressions. It’s true that when someone ‘shows up’ disheveled (think: unkept appearance) it invariably creates the wrong impression. Many will be put off by it. Certainly people don’t initially associate ‘professional’ with that person. Yet, it’s important to resist the urge to refer to them as unprofessional—for many of the reasons previously stated.
The point here is not to generalize. As professionals, it’s important for all of us to be objective. Recall the woman with the shrill laugh. Annoying? Sure. Unprofessional? No.