How to Gain Respect in Your Office

You are your own worst enemy. We don’t take you seriously at work because you don’t give us much reason to. You can get the respect you deserve only after you start acting like you deserve it. The good news is that you can control this and create positive change.

Look at yourself and how you’re dressed.

What? If dressing in a way that expresses your individuality is wrong, you don’t want to be right? If you want us to take you seriously, then you need to look like someone we can take seriously. Hey, if we’re so shallow, what do you care what we think?

One creatively-dressed rebel turned button-down manager found out for himself that clothes do make the worker. The turncoat known as Wayne Turmel wrote, “A dress code is (not just) about restricting my expression – it’s also a code to other people how they should respond to me. I’d like to be treated as a professional, thank you.”

And don’t think that you will be treated as a professional if your attire shows off your physical attributes. The more you reveal, the less we will see of your professional skills.

So take a look around the office. Who gets the respect you covet? Don’t stalk them until they lead you to their version of retail heaven. But note the basic style. Try an outfit, and see where that gets you.

Don’t be afraid to shop discount or second hand. You want clean, not fancy. Goodwill and Target might have what you need. If you have to stifle your creativity, don’t bust your budget.

You’re funny. Perhaps too much.

Everyone appreciates your sense of humor. And that includes me. Who wants to work with someone who can’t take a joke? It’s comforting to know that you always have a quip ready to brighten the day.

And it’s good for the company. Steven Sultanoff makes a pretty good case for it in the workplace. Humor can promote communication and relationships while reducing stress and absenteeism. So what’s the problem?

First, not everyone thinks you’re funny. Humor is very subjective. And someone thinks your cracks cross the line into inappropriateness. But they don’t want to say anything because other people are laughing. If you go to far though, they might go over your head to object instead of telling you personally. And you won’t know it until you have an “hostile environment” conversation with HR.

Second, even if you don’t offend anyone, the jokes don’t encourage us from taking you seriously. Maybe you’re cracking jokes because there isn’t anything else for you to say. When people think of you, do they think of how hard working or smart you are? Or do they think of that great one-liner you had in the budget meeting?

Speaking of humor. That self-deprecating stuff has to go.

A good way to make us laugh without insulting anyone is to make fun of yourself. Your stupidity, ineptness and ignorance are hilarious. And it’s fun to work with someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously.

But if you don’t, why should we?

Sure, you’re only kidding. And everyone knows that. But every joke at your expense helps reinforce a negative image of you in our subconscious.

Honestly. I know. I come from a long line of smart asses. And it’s not hard for me to lighten up a room with a one-liner. But I have to keep it in check. I need to make sure they hear useful, thoughtful statements coming out of my mouth too. This isn’t being boring. Offering wisdom can make you interesting in a totally different way.

And I know that humor is a great way to flirt. Someone who makes me laugh is very appealing. But stop treating our office like a singles bar.

Just because you’re a guy, don’t think that you can get away with playing the field. I know women have the burden of a double standard. Their sexual activities can make them look like a slut while men are seen as studs. It’s not fair. But you don’t get away scott-free.

Just because someone slaps you on the back and calls you Romeo in the men’s room, that doesn’t mean you have professional respect. In the back of our minds we’re wondering if you’re more concerned with getting the job done or getting the new temp in the sack.

The women aren’t impressed. And I’m not talking about the ones who have power around here. By the way, there are more of them than there used to be. But the one in the next cubicle isn’t thrilled with your exploits. When you turn to her, she wonders if you’re trying to hit on her.

This is a huge topic that’s worthy of a deeper look later. Stay tuned.

You have to give a little to get a little

Just how much respect do you show the people you want to respect you back? I know. If we don’t show you respect, why should you bother? You’re right. In fact, we agree with you.

So you’re going to have to suck it up and stop whining, “He hit me back first!” Start showing some respect and see what you get back.

And there’s all that TMI

I know this is the information age. But you’re giving too much of it. To be honest, I know more about you than I really want to know. It’s nice to share with coworkers. It makes us feel closer and helps bond. But do I really need to know about where your spouse has a new mole? Or that you two had the 10th argument this week? And please keep your hygiene habits to yourself.

We need a little more talk about work. It just doesn’t seem like you spend a lot of time working when you’re talking so much about your personal life.

OK, you’ve made some mistakes.

I’m talking real mistakes. Mistakes that cost us money. And people are a little wary of trusting you around here.

I don’t know what your deal is. But you need to get a handle on it. Figure out why you’re doing this. Buy a self-help book. Get therapy. Watch Dr. Phil. Whatever. Just spend the time to understand what are the circumstances that lead to your mistakes. Then do what you can to change those conditions.

And don’t blame someone else. No one’s buying that line. So start taking responsibility for what you’re doing. The less you say “It’s not my fault,” the more we will believe it when it’s true.

We need to see that you regret your mistakes, take responsibility for them and work to prevent them.

You have a tough reputation to turn around. It’s going to take hard work.

Listen. This is all controllable. You can take responsibility for how people see you and make sure it’s positive. You can see a big change in their attitudes quickly.

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Cubicle Curtis is the guy sitting at the next workstation. He's been in this office longer than anyone else, so he's a valuable resource of who does what and how to get things done. Before this job, he has worked just about every job between pizza delivery and accounting. Now, he's all about getting the job done and helping you figure out how to survive yours.


  1. Ophélie on the 18th September

    I find that the way I dress influences the way I’m seen at work even in our tiny, three-person office. Not only do I feel more put-together, which boosts my confidence, but I look like I actually got dressed to go to work, and not just to hang out with my co-workers.

  2. Murray on the 18th September

    I actually ran into this differently, which kind of shocked me.

    We had a high level Japanese executive come by our offices for a tour, and of course, as the web designer and tech guy at the office, I’m wearing a Pink Floyd shirt, baggy pants, and ruffled hair.

    It’s just my persona. Not to look goofy, but because it’s comfortable and for what I do, that’s the sort of look I imagine myself to be.

    However, when the Japanese exect saw me, he exclaimed “This is your web designer?”, with a subtle hint of confusion.

    I think he was definitely expecting to see a button downed, clean cut guy, most likely the same that he would see in Japan.

    After he left, it felt kind of odd because I became self aware of cultural expectations.

    I haven’t changed in appearance, but now I know that it is important to dress the part at times.

    Weird times.

  3. the last coyote on the 18th September

    This article is right on the mark. Murray’s post presents a classic example.
    I am a graphic design supervisor that works in an in-house environment. I used to dress like the biz-casual designer much like Murray has described, but once I found that it was easier to get my team to respond to me once I started dressing like a buttoned-down Oxford-cloth psycho. I also like the fact that i am sitting in my office working away in my shirt and tie looking professional and when people come in that’s what they see so they interact with me with more respect, all the while in my ear buds is the most brutal death metal/doom rock/sludge rock known to man, and they have no idea. To them I am the professional looking drone who takes care of business.

    Either that’s work awesome or maybe I should go check and see if I accidentally left my Fight Club Rules on the printer again.

  4. Mike Gensel on the 18th September

    Nice article, personally I dress for the environment.Right now I’m wearing old jeans and a University of Michigan Tee, The company I work for is a shop and I do in house web design slash networking. Luckily I earned my respect in my place of work through my mind rather than clothing. But in other situations I can relate to what you are saying. On a side note, and please don’t take this the wrong way, is it just me or did this article seem to turn into a rant?

  5. Bob Bessette on the 19th September

    First of all, I really like the style of this piece where you are actually talking to the reader as if they are the one who has all of the issues. It is a great effect. As far as dressing is concerned, I have definitely noticed a change in my coworkers, especially the executives, if I am wearing business attire vs casual attire or jeans. Then again, maybe it is my frame of mind knowing that I am dressed properly. I do feel better when I feel I look better.
    There are some in my workplace who wear jeans every day and I know that there may be a lack of respect for those individuals basically based on their attire. I used to know a guy at a former company who everyone thought was the best dressed guy at the company. I asked him about it one day and he pretty much told me that he had about 3 different outfits and he would mix and match the shirt, pants, and vest (he would wear a vest often) to shake it up. I actually thought he had many more outfits than he actually had. So, it is true that you can dress well and not break the bank.


  6. Ava on the 19th September

    Well I think this can be true in some workplaces, I don’t believe it to be true in all. I think it depends on the type of work you do. Working in a very creative environment, 90% of people at my company dress casual and to dress formally would just cause you to be alienated or raise questions. I think rules are definitely made to be broken and this is probably one of them – unless you work at a bank or a lawyer’s office, etc.

    P.S. I would die at work if no one had a sense of humour… thank goodness I don’t work with a bunch of stiffs…

  7. Hoodlord on the 21st September

    I think this post is really good to go with!! The dressup thing, yeah that really matters. I’d never thought about it that deeply before but now recalling my past office days, I find it really true! You know, you get treated well when you are in a formal wear with something like presidential suite or john player shirts with a tie!

    And, oh yes, Humor is the best communicator in my office too !! We really have a sense of humor!!

    Anyways, nice article!!


  8. maximus on the 21st September

    This article didnt make alot of sense to me…
    At the company i work for who is doing pretty good there’s a real casual athmosphere hanging around even though the company included 100+ employee’s. Only the marketing people have got a dresscode since they have to communicate alot and have alot of visitors from the “outside” world.

    My company includes a few lounge spots a bar (which isnt used often) plus a playground to stay creative and even encourages on “talking” casual sinds it is just the norm. I guess the article could make sense for some other company’s but it really depends on which one i guess…

    So here’s a big tip… just find a place you enjoy working at! otherwise keep looking for it!

  9. DC on the 12th June

    I like your article, however you are unable to please everyone (this includes sexists, racists, homophobes, etc.) These individuals will go out of their way to keep you down no matter what you wear or how you act in the office. Thoreau said it best, “I say beware of all enterprises that require new clothes, and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”

    Be Well Everyone.

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