Top 10 Most Common Unprofessional Behaviors


There are many misconceptions about professionalism. Perhaps the most common fallacy is that one needs to look “professional” to be professional. This is an absurd and outdated idea… from the 1960′s! Wearing a suit is what lawyers, politicians, used car dealers, corporate criminals, mobsters, and other unethical people do to make you think they are credible, trustworthy and professional. Do you want to look like these people? Professionalism isn’t how you look, it's how you behave. It's saying what you mean, doing what you say, and getting the job done. Therefore, you cannot tell if someone is professional by looking at them, and how you dress is not what makes you professional.

Managers and leaders commonly label things they don't want to deal with as unprofessional. Examples include using adult language, dating coworkers, occasional arguments, etc. Since employees are human beings, how can one expect them not to do these things? Dealing with these issues, and many other similar ones, is management's job. Calling these issues "unprofessional" in an effort to avoid dealing with potentially unpleasant aspects of managing and leading ... is unprofessional.

Being professional is doing the right thing, even if it costs more in terms of money and/or effort. Below are ten glaring examples of truly unprofessional behavior, plus constructive remedies for each.


1. Being unresponsive

People commonly fail to answer emails or calls, which makes getting feedback, answers or problems solved rather difficult. They tend to do this to avoid uncomfortable situations. No one said work would be easy and that we can just ignore difficult issues. We are paid to handle problems and difficult situations, so stop procrastinating and get the job done.

2. Blaming

People love to blame external factors for problems they create. Not only is this immature, but it often causes problems for other people. Additionally, problems are never solved when they’re blamed on something else. Don't be like Donald Trump, be an adult and take credit for mistakes or ideas that didn't work, so one can learn from them. Only then can they be prevented from happening again; if that is possible.

3. Not keeping promises

Keeping promises is a basic professional expectation, yet people frequently fail to do this. They make promises that won’t be kept, which causes problems for other people who might be depending on promises being kept. Do what you say you’re going to do. Only make promises you know will be kept (barring unexpected events).

4. Politics

Despite the dysfunctional nature of this behavior, it is pervasive. People routinely get promoted based on who they know, rather than what they know or can do well. Putting you and/or your friend's interests ahead of the organization's interests results in poor decisions. An open and transparent culture, distributed power, and leadership actively correcting such behavior can reverse this problem. Don’t brown nose, rely on skills and abilities to advance your career.

5. Being fake

Fakeness is widely accepted in the workplace. This is a very strange trend since it prevents truth from emerging, which often results in problems being concealed and bad decision making. Being fake is lying, which is bad. Reject the anti-free speech virus that is political correctness. Speak your mind and say exactly what you think. Don’t be like Paris Hilton, be real! The best that you can offer is the real you, not a fake version.

6. Putting profit ahead of customer needs

Selling defective products is a common example of this behavior (ex. used car lemons). Customers pay for products and reasonably expect to get value. Professional companies exist to provide value, and as a result they earn a profit (i.e., Apple). As Walt Disney once said, “I don’t make movies to make money, I make money to make movies.” Focus on providing outstanding value and you will likely be rewarded with profit.

7. Poor communication

One would imagine that after decades of communicating, one would be an expert at it. However people are notoriously poor communicators, particularly listening. This endemic problem makes it impossible to be professional, since one cannot do a job effectively if one cannot understand other people. Additionally, most people’s writing skills, including college graduates, are atrocious. Putting together a coherent paragraph is an impossible task for far too many people. Since communicating is an integral part everyone's job, I advocate that all working adults take significant steps to improve their communication skills. This includes taking formal writing and listening courses, reading self-help books and actively seeking critiques of listening and writing skills.

8. Lying and stealing

These acts seem obviously unprofessional, but countless people do both every day; often in small seemingly inconsequential ways. However, size doesn't matter when it comes to lying and stealing. No matter the size, it's wrong. It shouldn't be done, particularly since small lies and minor stealing often lead to bigger versions of it. Not only are these unprofessional behaviors, they are also unethical and/or illegal.

9. Not giving 100%

Just look around and you can find many examples of workers giving less than 100%. Part is this is a function of doing what is easy, not what is best. Mature adults do what is best, even if it is harder. If one collects 100% of a paycheck, one owes 100% work effort. If you think you aren't being paid enough, rather than working less, get another job or start a new business.

10. Thin Skin

There are millions of people who get hurt by any non-complimentary comment directed at them. They are like fragile little flowers! Being a sensitive crybaby, who gets offended at every little thing, is not a virtue. Pressuring others to be politically correct or fake is not an answer. Learn to value critiques and see them as learning opportunities. Seek professional help if necessary…seriously. Learn what you suck at and seek to improve or avoid these activities.