Respect is often confused with obedience because with obedience, the end result is compliance but the process and underlying reasons that drive your compliance may have nothing to do with respect. In other words, respect is not fear based, it is inspired because it shows you value your people by treating them in a way that gives them a voice and leaves them with their dignity intact.
In an environment where there is mutual respect, information is exchanged in a way that everyone’s dignity can be sustained. When employees demonstrate obedience, there is no room for the injection of creativity because leaders are autocratic or dictatorial. Building obedience achieves compliance at the cost of the infusion of diverse perspectives.
Author David Balovich suggests that, “In order to earn the respect of others, one must first have respect for themselves. One must recognize they are a person worthy of respect. One earns respect by giving respect to one-self and to others.”
Perspectives on Disrespect
Bullying: Bullying can manifest as intimidation in the form of shouting, inappropriate joking, condescending behaviour, exclusion, sexual harassment, profanity or sarcasm. It can also show up as disciplined behaviour designed to methodically show employees who has the power, or it can be undisciplined, triggered by emotion.
Bullying is not limited to face-to-face communication, it can manifest in written form as well. Examples include but are not limited to exclusion from e-mails related to your work; bold, capitalized or red letters; emails sent at night with the expectation of an immediate response and bombardment of emails, not allowing you sufficient time to get the work done.
Undermining Behaviour: These behaviours are designed to make a person seem to be less than competent than they are. Conscious and unconscious undermining strategies can minimize, neutralize or negate a person’s contributions. Sometimes undermining behaviour can be borne from necessity, like spoon-feeding employees, not allowing them to develop their critical thinking and leadership abilities. At other times, undermining behaviour can manifest as deliberate sabotage where someone neglects their responsibilities because of passive aggressive intentions.
Conscious Avoidance: There are times when employees are very competent and outspoken so they are used for their competence but not rewarded, respected, or used optimally because they are labeled as trouble makers. Instead, they are relegated to a position where they are contacted directly or by a third party only when their input is needed. This sometimes happens after a suboptimal decision begins to unravel. These people are valued for their competence but there is a competing need to keep them muzzled that restricts the scope of the contribution they can make.
Hierarchical Adherence: This occurs when the levels of hierarchy are so strictly adhered to that it disallows effective bottom-up and top-down flows of information. This reality is worsened when there is a weak layer of middle management. Anyone who attempts to circumvent the hierarchy and goes directly to the top to state their case can be open to attack for their perceived audacity. In cases like this, if the person needing to be heard is reprimanded for circumventing the hierarchy, they can feel disrespected and demoralized.
Immobilized Decision Makers: These are managers and executives who cannot make the tough calls either because of profound incompetence or because they are in a highly controlled work environment. They are viewed by employees as toothless and are not respected.
Unfounded Biases: There are managers who lack the critical thinking skills necessary for making fair decisions. Their biases have been allowed to remain unchecked so they react to opinion as though there is irrefutable evidence being presented. In circumstances like this, mistakes in judgment can happen, and when there is a trend of mistakes, employees don’t trust or respect this type of manager or executive.
Respect and Reciprocity
When you give respect you may receive it in return but if your respect is viewed as misplaced, you may not receive it. Creating an environment based on compliance and voicelessness can open you up to disrespect by those who don’t fear the consequences of their actions or it can cause obedience which looks a lot like respect on the surface.
How to Build Respect
When building respect, keep in mind that trust is usually impaired if the environment if characterized by disrespect so a respect building exercise will take time because it requires trust building dynamics. Here are a few tips to help you build trust and respect.
- Treat people with courtesy and respect leaving them with their human dignity.
- Take an inclusive approach, encouraging members of the team to share their ideas.
- Embrace differences as a team strength. Avoid labeling differences as an obstacle.
- If an idea is a good one, see how you can use it and give the person the credit for it.
- Think before you act. Weigh the risks of various alternatives. Knee-jerking behaviours demonstrate a lack of depth and engender disrespect.
- Use active listening skills to process other points of view. Remember, someone may have a perspective that can positively enhance your solution.
- Get over your biases and treat people equitably.
- Learn to praise much more than you criticize. Successful behavioural change models are based on reward not punishment.
- When you make changes in your behaviours, be consistent with your new behaviours. Flip-flopping in and out of old patterns will only create the perception that you were not serious about making meaningful change.
In a diverse work environment, building respect can enhance team productivity and creativity by reducing levels of conflict and building healthy work relationships. An unknown author summed it up this way, “To be one, to be united is a great thing. But to respect the right to be different is maybe even greater.”
Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner. If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her FREE newsletter at www.yvettebethel.com or you can listen to her podcast at Evolve Podcast.