In the minefield of office politics, gaining the true respect of your colleagues, your subordinates and your boss is a true achievement. It can be difficult — but if you succeed — the benefits are numerous. Here are some tips for gaining more respect in the workplace (and in life in general).
1. The Only True Respect Is Mutual Respect
Take a moment and think of a few people that you have respect for. Are any of them people who don’t respect you in return? Or, if they’re people you haven’t actually met in person, are there any that you feel would not treat you with respect if you were to meet them? If you answered “no” (and I hope you did), then I’ll take that as point made. If you answered “yes”, then I want you to think about it again. It’s easy to confuse respect with admiration, envy, or even fear. If the respect isn’t mutual…then it’s one of them in disguise.
2. Practice What You Preach
I once had a job where I supervised 30 or so people in a retail business. My boss used to sit in his office all day, rarely showing his face on the sales floor. He also used to ride me constantly about making sure the staff were productive when it wasn’t busy, but when he made his infrequent jaunts out of his office, he acted like Steve Carell’s character on the TV show The Office (cracking jokes, goofing around and keeping people from their work). I think you can probably guess how much respect he had from his employees: very, very, little. The moral of this story is that if you are a leader, then leading by example builds respect.
3. Giving Respectful Orders
Gaining the respect of people you are in charge of can be difficult. Often people resent being told what to do, and it can be even worse if you have to reprimand them. There are ways of giving directions without losing respect, though — if you do it carefully.
One technique is to give the person an element of control in the task you are asking them to do. For example, you can give them a choice of a couple of different tasks that need to be done and let them pick which they want to do, or you can allow them to use their judgement about what the best way to do the task is. When you say, “Jim, I need you to organize our filing system. You can organize it alphabetically, chronologically or whatever way you think would be best”, there is an implicit statement of “I trust your judgement”, which makes them feel respected and invites them to take pride in their work.
4. Empathy Breeds Respect
Another way to create mutual respect is to generate mutual empathy. This is actually surprisingly easy to do. If you are giving directions to a subordinate (or even making a request of your boss), start by stating their point of view to show that you have empathy for them. Then state your own to encourage them to empathize with your situation and then state your desired result. So, don’t say:
“Jim, can you please organize our filing system?”
“Jim, I know you’re pretty swamped right now, but we have year-end coming up and it’s imperative that we get our files in order for that. I need you to make time in your schedule to organize our filing system.”
It’s harder for them to object when they’re forced to see the situation from your point of view.
5. Gaining Respect of Superiors
Carefully phrasing the suggestions, objections and requests you make of your bosses can greatly influence how they are received. No matter how right you are (or think you are) with your complaint or request, the boss has the final say. You need to not only respect that, but show them that you do. An easy way to do this is to phrase your points as questions — and support them with facts. Avoid saying this to your boss:
“We need more staff on Saturdays.”
“We’re finding that on Saturdays customers are waiting a very long time before a staff member can help them, and we’ve received a few complaints. Do you think it’s possible to add more staff for that day?”
If your boss is unwilling (or unable) to give you what you ask for, the result will probably be the same regardless. But by phrasing the request in the second example, it keeps you from looking like a complainer; you look like a problem-solver instead.
Respect in the workplace benefits everyone, and it’s really not that difficult to achieve. All it takes is a little care in the way you deal with others. Getting into the habit of mutual respect in the workplace will inevitably spread into your personal and social life as well, so the advantages just keep adding up.
(Image courtesy of amee@work under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 generic license.)
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