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What are the six distinct traits of professionalism?

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Kappa Omicron Nu, a collegiate honors society, describes professionalism as the feeling of support an individual has for their chosen profession or an individual’s ability to positively represent the standards of one’s profession. This organization outlines six characteristics of professional style, or “a professional way of being,” as enumerated below.

Being ethical requires having a sound moral standard of conduct, both in personal and professional contexts. This means having the abilities to discern between right and wrong and make decisions that are in the best interest of everyone involved.

Being altruistic involves having a basic interest in the well-being of others. This is specifically important when working in helping/ developmental professions (e.g., medicine and education) or professions that involve large amounts of teamwork. As a professional, one must value the development of their clients and colleagues in the same ways they value their own development.

Being responsible means having an obligation to something or someone. When you are responsible for something, others depend on you, trust you, and will hold you accountable for meeting the needs or tasks you are responsible for. This also means that, when you do not meet your responsibilities, you must explain why they have not been met and how you plan to meet them moving forward.

Being theoretical means that you understand the context and values that shape your profession and apply this knowledge when appropriate. This can be learned in formal educational settings, particularly college, depending on the discipline you choose to study.

Being committed means being invested in something or someone for an extended period of time. As a professional, such devotion is displayed through having an active and engaged interest in continuing to develop one’s professional skills. One can do this by attending professional development events (e.g. conferences and seminars) in their field.

Being intellectual means you are actively and continuously seeking opportunities to learn. This means you are staying abreast of current and new developments within your field and looking for projects or activities in which you can develop or nourish a new skill.

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1. An Expert in the Field: Being a true professional means that you know your subject area well and possess specific skills.

2. A Performer: Being a professional also means that you deliver on your promises.

3. Is Moral and Ethical: A professional always does the right thing, no matter the situation. They will not make any compromises if they know such a decision can ruin their reputation or harm their clients.

4. They accept their mistakes. A professional won't try to make excuses when they know that they are at fault.

5. They don't crack under pressure. Professionals keep calm and look for solutions whenever they are faced with something very challenging.

6. They maintain their image. A professional will always look the part because they know that first impressions matter.

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The description of "six distinct traits of professionalism" can vary depending upon one's source. One set of traits—as described by the Kappa Omicron Nu National Honor Society for the Human Sciences (KON)—first addresses traits as categories of human competencies, then enumerates detailed definitions of sub-traits. The six distinct traits described by KON are ethical behavior, altruistic attitudes, responsible conduct, theoretical foundations, intellectual development, and committed convictions, skills and knowledge competence. To quote KON's description of a "professional style," the six characteristics are stated as:

Six Characteristics of Professional Style:
Competence is a Given!

Other sources describe similar traits as being definitive of professionalism, having some overlap with and some distinctiveness from the KON list. For instance, the Business Management Daily (BMD) describes the six characteristics of professionalism as having commitment; being well-spoken, with correct and appropriate language; leaving life drama at home, away from work; being well- and appropriately- groomed and tidy; being civil to co-workers and eschewing incivility; and being scrupulously honest and ethical.

BMD's description of trait details (drawn from the work of management expert Dan McCarthy) fits as sub-traits within KON's description of the traits of professionalism in this order: committed convictions, intellectual development, responsible conduct (twice), altruistic attitudes with responsible conduct, and ethical behavior (theoretical foundations and skills and knowledge competence aren't included in BMD's McCarthy description of the traits of professionalism).

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