I’ve always been a huge believer in the importance of respect. I believe that people deserve to be respected from the start, without the need to ‘earn’ it. This applies to everyone I meet, from the person who serves me my coffee in the morning through to the CEO of my organisation. I start from the position of respecting everyone and I will only withdraw my respect under extreme circumstances, and then that withdrawal would only apply to the person concerned and never to others in a group which they belong to.
“I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” – Albert Einstein
OK – so I believe respect is important. If you are someone who believes that respect should be earned and not just given then what could I say which would convince you otherwise?
Let’s consider a work context. A new person joins the team and you withhold your respect until you can assess their knowledge and ability to deliver. Do you think they can tell that they don’t have your respect? How does it feel when you aren’t respected? Does it motivate you to do better or does it upset you and make you angry? Does it make you more or less likely to ask for help to move past a problem? Is that in the best interests of the organisation?
The Towers Watson 2104 Global Workforce Survey was completed by 32,000 workers across the world. It found that one of the key factors in the effectiveness of line managers was that they treated employees with respect. It also found that one of the key factors for the effectiveness of senior managers was their belief that respecting individual differences was key to the organisation’s success. 72% of those individuals who felt that both their line manager and senior managers were effective were themselves highly engaged. Even the type of manager who doesn’t care about the happiness of the workers can’t argue with the many studies which have found that companies with highly engaged workers have higher profit growth and higher customer satisfaction. If these things are important to you then respect should be important to you.
When was the last time you were disrespected? If you had asked me that a week or so ago I would have replied that it had been many years for me, perhaps over a decade. However, I recently received an email which disrespected my professional experience and knowledge. The strength of my emotional response surprised me. The outrage that someone would disrespect me; the realisation that other people were copied on the email; the powerlessness to change the impression they would receive without sounding defensive; the utter unfairness of it all.
I had a conversation with a someone on Friday who told me that they didn’t feel respected by a certain team. I could see how upset they were by that and having had a recent experience myself I was able to empathise far more strongly. I still behaved and did exactly the same things as I would have done if that conversation had happened a week earlier, but I am now able to put myself in their position in a much more realistic way. I believe that makes me a better leader and so I thank the person who disrespected me for reminding me how important these things are.
So I am sending a true and heartfelt thanks to the person who sent me that email. Now I remember not just that it’s important to respect people but also how it feels when you are disrespected (even when disrespect is not is what is intended). It is good to be reminded of these things from time to time. I hope it is at least a decade before I get my next reminder though!