Follow TV Tropes


Being Personal Isn't Professional

Go To

"Feelin's? Look mate, you know who has a lot o' feelin's? Blokes what bludgeon their wife to death wiv a golf trophy. Professionals have standards."
The Sniper, Team Fortress 2

There's someone you know at work. They're professional and polite, always making a good first impression. They're very good at what they do but take everything way too seriously. They're quick to introduce themselves to everyone in the workplace but don't bother to find out any more than their co-workers' names and strengths within the workplace. It's not uncommon for people to start wondering if they are a robot due to their lack of extreme emotion and aloofness. If a situation arises, they will usually help out the one in trouble, then later brush it off saying Think Nothing of It.

One day, you happen to run into them outside of working hours. Not only do they greet you with a large smile on their face, but they are actually quite lighthearted and talkative. Turns out, they are rather social but not at work. They might even be wild, flirty and hate the persona that they're forced to show at work, especially if they're a Stern Teacher or Drill Sergeant Nasty. However, once they return to the workplace, they've returned to being as social and friendly as a rock.

Truth in Television, since being too emotional in certain jobs may prove dangerous or at least detrimental to how well you do the job.

Compare Sugar-and-Ice Personality, which occurs when a character is cold to the world at large and only exhibits their softer side to certain other characters.

A sub-trope of Work Hard, Play Hard, where a character is a hard worker and a huge party-goer but doesn't always draw a strict line in between.

The Consummate Professional firmly adheres to this standard, as do those with Sugar and Ice Personalities. It may also be a response to a Contractual Purity clause. Compare Hates Small Talk and Naughty by Night. The Punch-Clock Villain is an extreme example, where the "work" persona isn't just stern and businesslike, but evil.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Ebisu from Ebisu-san and Hotei-san is like this as she tells Hotei that she doesn't have time for personal conversations at work because Ebisu's firmly committed to not putting in any overtime.
  • Shimoneta: Oboro was purposefully conditioned by Anna's father to dress and act as a female at all times while he's protecting Anna. The only time he's instructed to leave her side is when she's either undressed or bathing to ensure he does his job without risk of developing feelings toward her.
  • Gauche Suede from Tegami Bachi: Letter Bee is one of the best Letter Bees around, but he also follows this trope. At the start of the series, when he encounters Lag, the protagonist, and learns that Lag is a Human Mail package, he dutifully sets about the task of delivering him to Cambel Litus but has no desire to get to know him personally. That only changes after their journey together, in which they get glimpses of each other's pasts due to Lag accidentally firing a Shindan, saving each other's lives, and becoming Fire-Forged Friends. Gauche's little sister Sylvette finds this development surprising, noting that she thought Gauche didn't have any friends besides his Love Interest Aria Link, suggesting Gauche is just as aloof to most of his coworkers.
  • In ...Virgin Love, Daigo purposefully keeps his work persona and his true personality separate. He's generous and easy-going by nature, but as a young CEO has to be professional and commanding at all times in the workplace to ensure the company's survival.
  • The Quintessential Quintuplets: Main lead Fuutarou Uesugi is hired as a Private Tutor for the titular quintuplets. At first, he only views them as his source of income, but as he gets to know them more, he starts to open up more and care for them beyond that. After quitting and later being rehired as their tutor, their father warns him against having any inappropriate relationships with them, which visibly unnerves him as he's aware of their feelings for him, and causes him to start distancing himself from the quintuplets.
  • In Yamada-kun and the Seven Witches, the chairperson lives after this trope when fulfilling her Class Representative duties, being so impossibly straightlaced that she doesn’t even care about the rumors that Yamada may have beaten or even raped a girl during his first year because he’s just another classmate to attend to. When taking time off in the Guam arc, however, she shows a warmer side, enjoying talking and playing board games with her classmates.

  • Mr. Sturgeon from Gordon Korman's Macdonald Hall is like this, he is so strict that he's known for his 'fishy stare', yet funny and good-humoured to his wife.
  • John Wemmick from Great Expectations is like this. At the office of Mr. Jaggers, he's a humorless, slightly unpleasant man who is devoted to the acquisition of 'portable property', while at home he is a joyful, caring, and generally amiable fellow who lived with his ancient father in a whimsical house built like a tiny castle. He's very insistent that his personal and professional lives don't cross.
  • Much like the Marines example in the Real Life section, Zelik Leybenzon in the Star Trek: The Next Generation Relaunch novel Q & A is a Drill Sergeant Nasty to his men, and kind of a rude dick to Geordi while on duty, but is perfectly friendly and sociable when everyone's hanging out in Ten Forward.
  • Discworld:
    • Carrot Ironfoundersson. When the love of his life, Angua, is in an extremely dire situation, he carries on with a practically British Stiff Upper Lip; because getting emotional about it won't help her, whereas carrying out his duties might. When he has an admitted bad guy at a disadvantage, he won't hold back out of nobility, honour, or even the sense of justice that might have stopped, say, Sam Vimes; he will kill them stone dead so that they won't hurt anyone else. Taken to extremes when he puts himself at risk of freezing to death because maybe that news will get back to Angua, who maybe will come and save him, enabling them to team up.
    • Sam Vimes, interestingly, is actually a subversion; he holds to his duty with a monomaniacal devotion, but nothing is more important to him than his family (which includes his brother and sister officers).
    • Carrot sums this trope up best at the climax of Men at Arms when he's trying to talk Vimes out of killing Dr Cruces in cold blood with the Gonne.
    Vimes: He killed Angua. Doesn't that mean anything to you?
    Carrot: Yes sir. But personal isn't the same as important.
  • Starship Troopers has a couple examples:
    • Fleet Sergeant Ho, the recruiting sergeant that signs Rico up, is cold and condescending towards him (though much warmer with his female friend Carmen). He's also missing both legs and one arm and does nothing to hide it. When Johnny runs into him later, he's wearing convincing powered prosthetics, shakes Johnny's hand, and congratulates him when he finds out Johnny's in the Mobile Infantry. The missing limbs are explained as a "horror show" designed to scare off the squeamish.
    • Col. Dubois, Johnny's History and Moral Philosophy teacher in High School. He treats everyone in the class as being unworthy of joining the Military and is openly insulting to students who don't share his views. While Johnny is in Boot Camp, he gets a letter from Dubois, which reads like a proud uncle praising a favorite nephew. Johnny has to check the envelope to make sure it was addressed to him.
    • Sergeant Zim is an interesting case. He starts off as a Mark I Drill Sergeant Nasty, but he becomes more approachable as the wheat is separated from the chaff in Johnny's Boot Regiment. Despite that, he remains stolid and professional. Even when he's the senior sergeant during Johnny's practice run as an Officer-in-Training, he remains completely professional. The only hint Johnny gets at a human side is a conversation he overhears where Zim admits to liking at least one of the recruits.
  • Berridge in the Father Brown story "The Blast Of The Book" is full of life, spirits, and wacky ideas, but since his boss at his secretarial job never bothered to think of him as anything more than a computer, that was all he ever was to him. Finally, Berridge decided to play a prank on his boss that involved dressing up as someone else, confident that his boss wouldn't be able to recognize him through even the simplest disguise.
  • The Dresden Files has mercenary wizard Binder. He walks close enough to breaking the Laws of Magic without going over them that the Wardens would like to kill him if he does so but have bigger problems than him to handle, so they let him live. When first introduced in Turn Coat, he is competent, professional, and dangerous. He won't hesitate to consider just burning Harry's house and waiting with a gun when Harry escapes with the man Binder is being paid to grab. He also agrees to surrender when Harry finally beats him but spares his life. Later in Skin Game when he and Harry work together, Harry finds a much more affable side to him during the planning stages and meal times.
  • In the fifth A Song of Ice and Fire novel, A Dance with Dragons, newly appointed Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, Jon Snow decides, despite his personal loathing of his chief opponent within the Watch, Janos Slynt, due to Slynt's involvement in the downfall of Jon's father Ned Stark, and for trying to get Jon killed on false accusations of treason, to look past that with giving Slynt command of one of the castles along the Wall, reasoning Slynt has experience commanding men and the repair work needed to make the castle habitable will both get him out of Jon's hair and keep Slynt too busy to cause Jon further trouble. Slynt, believing he can browbeat and bully Jon into submission on account of the latter's youth, refuses to obey orders twice, throwing in some nasty personal insults at Jon the second time...whereupon Jon executes Slynt to illustrate he will not tolerate insubordination.

    Live-Action Television 
  • Spoofed mercilessly with the character Wayne Jarvis in Arrested Development.
  • Burn Notice: Michael and many of the main characters can be like this. The twist is usually their "professional" sides can be more affable, scared, or threatening than their normal personas.
    • Michael, as a spy, has to detach his emotions from his job. So if he needs to get close to a corrupt cop, a banker, or other scum, he will act as needed to get close to the people, even if he honestly wants to take a lead pipe to their head. In his many voice-overs, he stresses that the need to do this is crucial to maintaining cover I.D.s...but on the other hand, on the occasions when said emotions can help sell his cover, expect him to make the most of it.
      Michael: When you're undercover, you often fight your emotions. If the operation demands you be the target's best friend, you do it, no matter what you're feeling. But there are times emotions can help sell a cover I.D. If hitting a guy reinforces your cover, you give it all you got.
    • Sam Axe does one of the hardest jobs when his cop buddy is killed by his dirty partner, but as part of the "job" is to get evidence to take down the dirty cop, Sam must act friendly and affable to the bastard. Sam even has to get the victim's wife to help keep nice.
    • Madeline Weston, Michael's mom and not a trained spy, helps Michael break a Yakuza boss of a human smuggling ring by being a kind nurse brought in to heal him after Michael and the crew grab him. She plays on his honor and wants to survive with Michael invoking his abusive father's behavior and belligerence. Once they escape and she has the needed information, and the yakuza planning some noble sacrifice to delay Michael, Madeline drops the facade, lights up a cig, and holds the man at gunpoint while Michael goes and rescues the girls.
  • Something that repeatedly comes up in Boardwalk Empire. You have those who are on the more "professional" end, and then you have those on the "personal" end like Gyp Rosetti.
  • Dr. Clark Edison on Bones. He really doesn't want to be involved in anybody's personal life and is less than pleased with all the interpersonal non-business talk. Until he opened up and developed a habit of oversharing.
  • Game of Thrones: Missandei publicly goes along with Tyrion's peace plan with the Masters, saving her objections for when they're in council.
  • Inspector Fowler at times on The Thin Blue Line, in one instance pointing out that, as his girlfriend wanted his advice partly as her commanding officer and partly as her boyfriend, he will have to give her one opinion now and one at lunch, as he is not being paid to be her boyfriend.
  • Inverted on Royal Pains with Dr. Jeremiah, who is socially awkward and generally is not emotional in everyday life but is encouraged to be personable for the sake of the clients.
  • Gorden Ramsey, bombastic chef of Hell's Kitchen, appears to be quite friendly and personable on the reward trips winners on his show go on. But, as soon as he is back in the kitchen and they screw up...
  • The Cosby Show: Theo is completely flabbergasted to see that his hyper-strict, no-nonsense math teacher is an attractive, fun-loving, and Happily Married woman.
  • Inverted in an ER storyline which had Mark failing to support Susan when she was blamed for the death of a patient and hauled before the review board, and subsequently failing to understand why she was so hurt and angry that she refused to speak to him for weeks afterwards. When he tries to reconcile with her, he essentially cites this trope, saying that she can't expect him to side with her because of their friendship.
  • The second series of DCI Banks introduces DI Helen Morton, replacing DS Annie Cabbot during the latter's maternity leave. At first, DI Morton feels no need or desire to share anything about her personal life with her colleagues, but she is eventually convinced to seek that human connection.
  • Mike Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul embodies this trope. He's an incredibly efficient assassin and enforcer for Gus Fring's drug enterprise, who stops at nothing to carry out his job, but he hardly ever holds any ill will towards his targets, and is a pretty decent guy when he's not on the job. Even better, unlike Walt, he's managed to keep his professional and personal lives separate.
  • Corporate: John the manager states that Weekend John is a fun-loving, cool guy and forces his coworkers to hang out with him one Saturday, where they find him an insufferable bore. His co-workers figure that at the cost of wasting a Saturday with him, they'll at least have a better relationship with John at work, but on Monday, John makes it clear that Weekday John is just as big of a hardass as ever.
  • The Young Pope: Lenny gathers his new papal staff together and announces that he has no interest in getting to know any of them or having any kind of personal relationship because it will get in the way of their duties. He also immediately fires his head cook for being too friendly. Over the course of the show, however, this is just one of many ways that Lenny contradicts himself, hiring his personal friends as advisers and forming personal relationships with assistants. In the first season finale, he gathers his staff together and says that he loves them.
  • Space: Above and Beyond: After the 58th Squadron starts getting too casual with Colonel McQueen, he bluntly reminds them he is their commanding officer, not their friend or a potential romantic partner.
    McQueen: What do you think, we're back on the block smoking and joking? Hear this loud and clear, Marine: I'm not your guy, I'm not your joe, I'm not your damn drinking buddy, and I sure am as hell not a mark in a single's bar!
  • In Veep, Sue is the only person who lives by this code in Selina's office because she's the Only Sane Man. It comes as a surprise to them that she is married and had been for a year when they found out because the rest of them tend to overshare about their own personal lives and think it's so odd that she doesn't.

    Newspaper Comics 
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin is surprised to hear his mom ran into his teacher at the store during the summer. When asked why he said he had always imagined that teachers spent the summer sleeping in coffins.

  • Roger Federer seems unaffected and cold on the court, but is very social and cheery off. If someone is injured, he calls or emails them to make sure they're OK.

    Video Games 
  • The Sniper from Team Fortress 2 insists that his feelings don't enter into his job — there's no room for them. "Professionals have standards."
  • Star Ocean: Till the End of Time: Zigzagged. While Nel firmly believes that the mission comes first, it doesn't mean she's without empathy. When her two subordinates get captured by Shelby, Nel attempts to rescue them on her own, so Fayt and Cliff wouldn't have to get involved. But they follow Nel against her wishes, so she wouldn't sacrifice herself either.
  • Pokémon:
    • Pokémon Black and White and its sequels will occasionally have you encounter trainers who are nurses and doctors, who will calmly heal your Pokémon and send you on your way. So long as you battle them first since they're off-the-clock.
    • In Pokémon X and Y, the protagonist can find one of the Pokémon Center nurses hanging around the Battle Maison. If you try to talk to her, she frustratingly tells you that she's incredibly stressed from work and just wants to enjoy her day off watching Pokémon battles, directing you to just go over to the Pokémon Center in the nearby town.
      "When I go back to work, I'll do my job, so please leave me alone today, OK?"
    • One of the challengers you can face at the Battle Tree in Pokémon Sun and Moon can be a Pokémon Center nurse named Perri, who is a bit annoyed at seeing you on her day off and forces herself to be nice to you regardless. She's also slightly perturbed if you decide to have her as a Multi Battle partner.
    • In Pokémon Sword and Shield, your rival Marnie carries herself like this, talking to the player with a detached and formal air in stark contrast with the friendly Hop and the antagonistic Bede, as she sees starting any sort of personal relationship with a fellow competitor to be little more than a distraction from her goal. That said, her Pokémon's joyful behavior whenever you show up makes it clear that she is fond of you.
  • Ace Attorney:
    • Apollo Justice draws a line between his business and professional life and is unhappy when his personal life gets involved with his work life. It's even implied that though they ask, Apollo never shares details of his past with his coworkers unless he absolutely has to. While not as extreme as other examples, there's some level of distance between Apollo and other people involved in the legal system, and between Apollo and people in his personal life, such as Aura and Clay. Trucy sits somewhere in the middle, getting both sides of Apollo depending on the situation.
    • Hakari Mikagami (Justine Courtney in the Fan Translation) in the second Investigations spinoff is another example, who turns out to be a Deconstruction of this trope. She's cold, stoic, and utterly devoted to the law most of the time, and initially seems to have an Evil Cannot Comprehend Good reaction to post-Character Development Edgeworth. When we actually see her preside over a trial in the final case, it turns out she suffers extreme emotional stress over trying to keep her personal feelings out of her professional life for the sake of being a "fair and impartial judge", and associates of the defendant kidnapping her son to try and force a Not Guilty verdict drives her to breaking point. Edgeworth has to remind her that even those who hand down legal judgements are still only human. On a more minor note, Sebastian Debeste, who'd been working with her for a long time, wasn't aware she had a son.
  • Suikoden V: Cius is a stickler for adherence to proper procedure and takes issue with the fact that the men in Prince Fryejador's army flirt with the female soldiers. So he submits a formal letter of complaint to the Prince, to request that he put a stop to it.
  • Nurse Love Syndrome and its sequel, Nurse Love Addiction have this established as a rule for nurses to follow, for reasons established in the Real Life folder. Actual nurses were even given advisory roles to make the nursing aspect of the game as realistic and informative as possible, even.

    Web Comics 
  • In Elf Blood, Council Captain SKO behaves this way when on duty, even going so far as to make the childhood friends under her command address her as Madam Controller when on a mission. Off-duty though, they live in the same quarters, share the same food, and SKO behaves a lot more casually to them.

    Western Animation 
  • On Recess, Ms. Finster turns out to be an old friend of Spinelli's parents. She turns out to be quite cool in the end despite her Stern to Sadist Teacher tendencies.
    • Principal Prickly is often compared to TJ Detwiler and said to have had a similar role in the school back when he was a kid and is openly shown to be a lifelong fan of the same comic book superhero TJ enjoys. Prickly also never wanted to be a principal, just a teacher, and only took the job to defend recess at the school.
  • Mr. Ratburn in Arthur is shown to be this when they follow him to a carnival, where he's shown putting on a puppet show for small children and generally being nice to kids. He had previously only been seen as a harsh teacher at school. Lampshaded a little by D.W. who thought that teachers lived at school.
  • The Looney Tunes cartoons with Ralph the Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog who are friendly to each other before and after the work whistle blows and eat lunch together but are enemies during "working hours."
  • In Futurama, Leela's cryogenics boss, Ipji, observes this trope to a T — nobody but he knows from work knows he is married and his wife doesn't know he has a job. "I keep my personal and professional lives separate!"
  • Subverted for humor in one episode of King of the Hill, where Enrique wants to meet Hank after work to get some personal help with some marriage problems he's having. He seems to assume that Hank is less stoic and impersonal after hours. He's really not, but Enrique still interprets his actions as such.

    Real Life 
  • Real Life teachers are often like this, the mix of having to maintain discipline in the classroom and needing to be above reproach in their interactions with students (sometimes to an unreasonable degree). It relaxes a bit in high school and college, though, as the students get older and more mature.
    • One of the most world-shattering moments in a child's life is running into their teachers outside of school and discovering they're *Gasp!* human!!
    • The truly shocking thing is that point around the middle to end of university when one might well end up being invited to have a drink with a professor or attend some other sort of social event at a professor's residence. Until that point, one's teachers' humanity is known and understood but merely theoretical; now, you're part of it.
      • The college example can happen even sooner in a small school, where class sizes may only be less than one hundred, or half of that.
  • Security guards walk a line between being reasonably personable (even friendly) and being authoritative.
  • It's not unknown for a US Marine to run into one of their Drill Instructors once they're "out in the fleet", often while out on town, and find themselves greeted warmly, and even offered a beer or the like by someone who had once been the bane of their entire existence.
    • Many militaries in general encourage this trope, as much of a military's function revolves around a strict hierarchy based on rank and position. How much this is the case will vary from organization to organization, but in general, Fraternization between higher and lower ranks is heavily discouraged.
  • The Inversion exists in real life too; people who are less sociable may have to become chatty and friendly in order to adequately speak with customers.
  • Many offices now have "casual days" where employees can come into work dressed in more "everyday" attire that they might wear while running errands or going out shopping. Some employees may still choose to come dressed in more formal attire because they don't feel that casual dress is professional. Similarly, while most employees may have family pictures and other personal decorations in their office, some employees may not bother to decorate their cubicles at all.
  • Germans, specifically North Germans, have a reputation for strictly enforcing a divide between work time and playtime. This may be one of the reasons for the Germanic Efficiency stereotype.
  • Tying into the whole "connection being a detriment of the job", this trope is why most healthcare professionals are disallowed from having friends or relatives as patients. Being too attached to a certain patient is detrimental to both their health and the health of other patients, which is also why nurses are discouraged from becoming too close with patients despite having to take care of them.
  • As many an entrepreneur will tell you, "There're no friends in business"; likewise, a general rule of thumb when embarking on business ventures is to be wary of working with loved ones