Creating a Culture of Respect

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Developing positive and open relationships at work depends on the way we talk — and listen.

There is something about the holidays that–despite the hectic pace and demands–makes us smile. The acknowledgements and greetings we offer each other, the thought that goes into our cards and gifts, and just connecting with others makes them–and us–feel good. Acknowledgement goes a long way. So how can we take this gift of noticing and knowing each other into the new year in ways that are everyday and ordinary?

Our workplaces are teeming with people from different social worlds who have different rules and norms for how to relate to others. Such diversity calls for us not only to treat others the way we would like to be treated, but also to treat others as they would like to be treated. Yet the rule book seems to be expanding daily. How can we possibly get it right?

More and more, the major complaint I hear from my clients comes down to the issue of respect. The comment, “They don’t know how to show respect” can be heard up and down the ladder–from leaders about their management team, from the management team about the supervisors, and from the administrative staff about the leaders.

The issue of respect shows up in how people talk to each other, whether they talk to each other and what they say.

How people talk to each other: The disrespect meter goes off when people sense a short, judging or harsh tone. Taking the extra minute to pause and address people in a way that acknowledges who they are and how what you do together matters, can make a big difference in your work relationships. Tones become shrill when we are rushed and harried, which happens frequently these days. Slowing down can make all the difference in getting things done faster while building rapport.

Whether people talk to each other: We are privy to so many stories people tell about being ignored at work, be it in the hallways, at the coffee machine, at meetings when they are attempting to make a contribution and even at the front desk. Instead, from the time you walk across the parking lot, through the lobby, and from meeting to meeting, make a point of acknowledging others; saying hello can go a long way.

What they say to each other:
The language we use and the way we refer to one another is a particularly controversial sensitive issue. In trying to remain politically correct and not offensive, we wonder what to call each other. Is she African-American or black? Should I refer to him as Latino or Hispanic? Is it OK to ask about holiday observances? What about family? Often, questions that convey interest and caring to one may be intrusive to another.

The key is creating the relationship where your intent is louder than any unintended offense. When people know you are coming from a respectful, caring place, they’re more apt to move past an unintended offense and let you know what they would prefer in the future.

When it comes to respect, we are seeing and feeling the not-so-subtle impact of different definitions and rules colliding at the workplace. Clearly, there are myriad descriptions for respect. For me to understand what that means to you requires us to have a conversation–to engage with full curiosity. The mere effort to do so communicates, “I respect you enough to suspend my certainty and knowing and to listen to you fully.”

So, as you celebrate the holidays and spread good cheer, notice how good it feels to acknowledge those around you and be received in return. Talking with others–and really listening to them–is the gift that endures.

published in Entrepreneur

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