Professionalism requires respect, open mind

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jason Wiese
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs
Professionalism is an imprecise term which can mean different things in different situations. For Airmen, professionalism is a job requirement, and in addition to military dress and appearance, customs and courtesies and technical job knowledge, being a professional Airman means being aware of the social context of one's behavior.

"When I think of professionalism, I think of treating people with respect, the way you want to be treated," said Master Sgt. Carlos Barter, 90th Missile Wing Equal Opportunity Office NCO-in-charge.

From an EO perspective, being professional means not engaging in harassment such as inappropriate comments or jokes, stereotyping and prejudicial treatment, he said.

"When we tell offensive jokes, call somebody a name or judge someone based on their race or religion, it affects mission accomplishment," he said. "One's professionalism can start eroding, and cohesion, as a unit, can start eroding."

Differing cultures can have opposing viewpoints, and so can men and women, said Mary Brown, 90th MW Sexual Assault Prevention and Response manager.

People with different backgrounds often have different beliefs on social norms, and navigating a diverse social environment can be difficult, but a good way to help determine one's behavior is following one's "gut feelings," she said.

"The hard part is making sure everyone knows what the standards are," she said.
"If at any time you think, 'maybe I shouldn't be doing this,' that's your training kicking in."

Productivity can decrease in organizations whose employees act unprofessionally, both those who are made to feel uncomfortable and those who foster the unprofessional environment, Brown said.

"Whoever is doing that is not focused on the job, but an agenda that should not be going on," she said. "We need to be focused on the nuclear deterrence mission."

Unprofessional Airmen not only degrade their own image, but that of everyone wearing an Air Force uniform, Barter said. Airmen represent not only themselves, but the Air Force as a whole. Behaving inappropriately chips away at the public's view of the professional Airman, and it is easy to spot Airmen in public, even out of uniform.

When an Airman acts unprofessionally, consequences such as counseling, letters of reprimand and articles 15 can follow, Barter said.

"It goes beyond a disciplinary action," Barter said. "It's a missed opportunity to learn about someone's history or background."

People should feel free to talk about what makes them unique, their upbringing, and who they are, but doing so professionally takes tact and an open mind, he said. This means maintaining a cordial neutrality and having the mindset of 'agreeing to disagree' when discussing topics for which people can have any of several viewpoints.

"Emotions, past experiences and values, and the ways we were brought up are always going to be there and we need to be aware," he said. "Even if we don't agree, at least we know where each other are coming from, and it's a starting point to go forward.

"Talking about cultural differences can be a learning experience, but we have to do so as the professionals we are."

Even those with no intent to do so can offend others, he said.

"Perception is someone's reality, whether it is factual or not," he said.

A way people can avoid miscommunication and hurt feelings is speaking up when someone says something that offends them, he said.

"When someone says something to you that you find offensive, try to let that person know," Barter said. "Most of the time, that should take care of the problem. What they do with that feedback is up to them."

Out of respect, people should abide by the requests of others to stop doing what they say makes them feel uncomfortable, even if they think what they are doing is harmless, Brown said. If they do not comply, that could be grounds for disciplinary action, depending on the situation. If the problem persists, that is the time to bring the issue up one's chain of command or to the attention of one's first sergeant or the EO office.

Taking care of things at the lowest level possible is preferable, Barter said.

However, if unwanted touching is involved, one can immediately seek help from the SAPR office, Brown said.

"It's dignity and respect: we have to have that," she said. "People need to feel safe in their work environments."