At first, we were shocked. Then we were amused. Now, we seem to be resigned to it. I’m talking about public temper tantrums by grown-a** adults. Name-calling in school board meetings. Out-of-control airline passengers enraged after being told to pull up their mask. A Wall Street executive caught on video berating and cursing a yogurt shop employee who made a mistake on their order. This, apparently, is the world we live in – where my needs and wants come before anyone else’s and where I have the right to berate, belittle and bully anyone, in order to get what I want. I’m not sure how we got to this point, but it’s not a productive or healthy way to live.
And the workplace is not exempt from this cultural shift toward incivility. Interruptions and overtalking during meetings. Discounting the contributions of subordinates. Gossip and backbiting behind the scenes. It doesn’t have to rise to Succession-level nastiness to become an unhealthy workplace.
Aretha was right. Respect should be the bare minimum in our dealings with others, especially our co-workers. I was often told in Sunday school to try to see the face of Jesus in others. Heck, I just try to see my face in others. It’s as basic as the Golden Rule, a version of which is taught by every major world religion.
Christianity: In everything, do to everyone as you would have them do to you. (Matthew 7:12)
Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. (Hillel, Talmud, Shabbat 31a)
Islam: Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself. (The Prophet Mohammed, Hadith)
Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. (Mahabharata 5: 1517)
Respect is one of those values that we try to teach our kids as early as we can. One children’s book defines respect as “caring enough about the other person to think about your impact on them.” Will my words or actions make them happy or sad? Will my words or actions be helpful? Will my words or actions create friendship and goodwill? If kids can learn this basic concept, then why is it so hard for adults?
In the workplace, as in the family, respect needs to be modeled and expected from the top down. Respect is always reciprocal.
Here are just a few tips to keep in mind when building that culture of respect:
- Value clear communication. Listen more than you talk. Think before you speak. Practice transparency and honesty.
- Emphasize Inclusiveness and participation. Recognize diversity, not just in race and gender, but in work and communication styles as well. Encourage the introvert in a sea of outspokenness, as well as the divergent thinker among a multitude of methodical, structured types.
- Be inquisitive. Get to know people as individuals. Ask questions, dig deeper, ask Why?. “Tell me more” can be a really handy phrase.
- Recognize all contributions and value teamwork. Give credit where credit is due – publicly. Thank people for their ideas and insights
- Learn to disagree in a positive, constructive manner. Ask questions. Give examples. Look for points of agreement and be open to compromise. Accept that you may be wrong about something (or that you have made false assumptions).
Remember, that at its core, respect is simply recognizing and honoring the humanity of each person. Treating others with respect costs you nothing and creating a workplace culture of respect will reap benefits of longer retention, greater productivity and happier, healthier workers.