How to Show Respect at Work (and Command it!) 

 October 6, 2020

By  Marie

Respect in the workplace is critical both for the company culture and for your own professional development.

In order to bring value to the business, you have to show respect at work to your colleagues.

This will allow you to build trust with co-workers which will lead to more efficient working relationships.

Ultimately, showing respect to colleagues will gain you respect from others.

Let's learn how this works and what you can do to show respect at work (and command it!). 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. If you use these links to buy something I may earn a commission. If you do use these links, thank you.

What is Respect in the Workplace?

handshake to show respect at work

Respect in the workplace is all about allowing for healthy disagreement between colleagues. Listening to all opinions.

Most of us have had a time that we disagreed with a decision at work and felt like it fell on deaf ears.

Or worse, we took an unpopular position and were ridiculed or even personally attacked.

That is disrespect. Disrespect causes employees to feel smaller than others.

That their opinion and expertise are disregarded for whatever reason.

Respect in the workplace is every employee’s responsibility.

Yes, it is critical that it comes from the top. That C-suite management shows respect to every employee and expects the same from everyone else.

That builds a culture of respect at the company.

But for you as an individual, showing respect at work should be the standard. It’s about your integrity and professionalism.

Even if it is not always returned. Even if you are in a toxic work environment.

Ultimately, showing respect to colleagues will always benefit you more than disrespect.

If you show respect, you will command respect. It's a two way street.

Importance of Respect in the Workplace

teams show respect at work

Simply put, respect in the workplace allows for diverse viewpoints to be heard and considered.

It facilitates business decisions being made with all information considered. To truly arrive at a decision that is best for the company, rather than the one than the decision based on the loudest opinion.

It also builds trust among co-workers. Trust between teams and employees is critical for the business.

It is the foundation for an effective work relationship.

So it should be critical for you as an employee.

What is most important, and challenging, is being able to show respect at work to colleagues that you may not be friends with otherwise. When there are differences and disagreements.

Differences and disagreements are healthy things to have in the workplace.

Different points of view, personalities and life experiences are important to have among employees.

It is why diversity is such a focus for organizations. It provides a wealth of ideas to move the business forward.

But in order for differences and disagreements to be a healthy part of the workplace, respect must be shown among colleagues.

Therefore, as an individual you must show respect at work.

Otherwise, diversity without respect can quickly erode the company culture. It leads to toxic workplaces. Unhappy employees. 

Ultimately, the business suffers without respect.

How to Show respect at Work?

infographic on how to show respect at work

Respect is shown in many different forms and interactions. 

In general, here are guidelines to ensure that you are demonstrating respect towards all of your colleagues.

If you show respect at work, you will command it. 

People respect those that respect them.

Listen to everyone’s viewpoint

listening is important in showing respect at work

When someone is voicing an opinion, make sure you listen. Truly listen.

Take time to absorb their opinion. Attempt to see it from their perspective

Ask questions when you are unsure about why they hold a certain opinion. Show genuine curiosity for their train of thought and expertise.

People want to not only be heard but to be understood. Understanding is much harder than just hearing someone.

Ask some of the following to gain a deeper understanding of their perspective

  • Can you clarify your viewpoint on [xyz]?
  • Can you tell me about your previous experience related to [xyz]?
  • What do you think are the risks are if we don’t do [xyz]?
  • Do you see any alternative approaches to addressing [xyz]?

When you strive to understand people, even if you still disagree, it will demonstrate respect for others.

Subsequently, you will garner yourself respect.

Ensure everyone’s viewpoint is included

When you are driving to make a decision for the business, make sure everyone relevant participates and shares a viewpoint.

If you are in a meeting and various viewpoints are being discussed, prompt those that are not participating to include their opinion.

Meetings can get heated and hectic. It can be difficult to jump in and add another viewpoint for some co-workers, especially those that are newer or younger.

As someone that might be more experienced or have a longer tenure with the company, it is only respectful to ensure they are giving an opportunity to participate.

Use a prompt such as:

  • Jane, what do you think about [issue]?
  • Everyone has really good ideas. John, I would love to hear what your opinion is?
  • Jane, I think you have some really relevant expertise in this area. What are your thoughts?

It’s important that you do not put a colleague or team member on the spot to agree or disagree with a certain opinion.

Rather, you are just giving them a platform to share their viewpoint. 

Participate Constructively

When you are in discussion with colleagues, stay focused on providing constructive viewpoints and solutions. 

This requires you to stay focused on what the business needs. How to drive it to success.

Keep a clear-head. 

Keep emotions, especially frustration and anger, at bay. 

Emotions are not constructive. Instead, they lead to a breakdown of communication. 

They shift the focus of discussions from what the business needs to what individuals need.

It is entirely normal and human to become emotional at work. Whether it is sadness, frustration, or anger.

You should not be made to feel that becoming emotional is somehow wrong. Or makes you a lesser employee.

Your professional life is a large part of your life and it is natural, and expected, to be committed to your employer and career.

The important thing is that when you do become emotional, step away

Do not try to continue a conversation once you are emotional if it is clear that you cannot compose yourself. It's okay to need a moment.

When in a meeting, excuse yourself. If it is your meeting, ask to have a follow-up at a later time to make a decision.

If you are speaking to a singular individual, let them know you are feeling frustrated/angry/etc. Request to continue the conversation at another time.

These options are all better than having unproductive conversations or worse, lashing out at a co-worker.

So when you do participate, do it in a constructive and calm manner.

Steer Clear of Gossip

There are few things that will lose co-worker trust as quickly as gossiping about them behind their back.

Gossip exists in every workplace.

It is again, a natural desire to want to vent your frustrations and grievances with an individual that understands.

But gossip is ultimately self-serving. And therefore, unprofessional.

Gossip exists because it makes individuals feel better. To “unload” or validate their feelings.

But gossip in no way benefits the business.

It sows distrust and creates rifts among colleagues

If you are feeling emotionally overwhelmed from work, share it with a trusted friend or loved one outside of work. 

In fact, you should discuss these feelings with someone in order to cope with them. Don’t bottle them in.

Just don’t do it with your colleagues.

If a colleague’s or boss’ work practices are impacting your own performance, consider providing feedback in a constructive and business-oriented manner.

But participating in gossip to simply validate your feelings or cope with insecurities will not gain respect.

Quite the opposite. It will lose you respect. Very quickly.

Don’t Complain

Complaining is the equivalent of highlighting issues and grievances without providing potential solutions.

In order to show respect at work for people’s time, and to command respect, you need to be solution-oriented. 

Instead of complaining to colleagues or your manager, come with a proposed solution.

It is perfectly acceptable to highlight issues and problems that are causing inefficiency and frustration. But it is important to take the time to assess how the situation can be improved.

If you think that there could be multiple solutions, walk the team through the pros and cons of each.

Providing choice to the business is always a good thing.

At the end of the day, your solution may not be the one that the team decides is best for the business. Someone may highlight a solution that provides more upside.

That is okay. You will not always have the best idea.

The important thing is that you highlighted a problem and generated a discussion about how to solve it.

Rather than a vent-session about all of the negative emotions that the issue causes.

Receive and Give Feedback

Instead of gossiping and complaining, you need to learn how to use feedback to improve your situation as well as develop professionally.

First, it is important to actively ask for feedback on your own performance. Learn to utilize this feedback in order to improve yourself as a professional.

Demonstrating that you acknowledge your weaknesses, and actively seek to improve them, shows respect to your colleagues. You are improving their work situation by improving yourself.

Once you have built solid relationships with colleagues or your boss, you can give feedback.

Providing constructive feedback, and knowing how to do it in a way that it is well received, is one of the most powerful tools to rectify situations while maintaining a high level of respect.

I highly recommend reading the book "Thanks for the Feedback"

You can also read more about how to give feedback to your boss here.

Respect People’s Time

Respect for people’s time is near and dear to my heart. 

It is a personal pet peeve of mine as I find so many people have a complete disregard for others’ time. 

You know those people that show up late to every meeting? And then apologize for being late every time? It drives me crazy.

Time is an individual’s most precious commodity. It is something that, once taken, can never be returned.

Treat it as such.

Respect for others’ time comes in many forms including

These are just a few recommendations on how to be more mindful when asking for or using people’s time.

You should always be conscious of how you use people’s time. 

Showing that you value others’ time shows that you respect them.

Ask for Help

Acknowledging other people’s expertise is a great way to demonstrate your respect for them.

Staying humble, and admitting when you do not know how to do something, is a great way to generate respect for yourself.

This is why asking for help is a win-win.

When asking for help you must do it in the correct way.

First, make sure you have exhausted your own resources to solve the issue or complete the task.

Do not turn for help for every minor task and question. This would be a waste of people’s time.

You must stay proactive.

Do your research. Use all of the information at your disposal, in a reasonable amount of time, to find a solution or complete the task.

If you have done this and are still struggling to understand, ask for help.

When asking for help, it is important to be humble. Needing help is not a cause for shame.

Be forthright with what you are struggling with. Acknowledge why you are asking for help from the particular individual (given their expertise).

Outline what you have done already to try to find a solution. 

And when you are provided help, be gracious. Remember to always thank your colleague for their time and expertise in helping you.

It is a common misconception that admitting a lack of knowledge in something, even if it is within your realm of responsibility, is a flaw. That people will look down upon you for it.

Quite the opposite. It signals your self awareness. 

It shows commitment to do what is best for the business, even if it means admitting you are not the best person to answer the question or provide that information.

This is worthy of respect. 

Stay hungry to learn and grow. And ask for help when you need it.

The best leaders know that they need to rely on others’ expertise constantly.

You can’t know everything.

Treat Everyone Equally

When assessing opinions and viewpoints from colleagues, never play favorites. 

Your decisions at work should always be made based on what you believe is best to accelerate the business forward. The business is always your priority.

This means that you must treat your colleagues equally.

Being able to agree with someone that you may not always get along with is a sure-fire way to command respect. It will also signal that you are capable of respecting individuals despite your differences.

Again, a win-win.

This is easier said than done. As humans, we are prone to bias

But the best thing you can do is admit that you are prone to bias and be consciously aware of it. 

Fight it.

If you do, you are miles ahead of most individuals.

Being consciously aware of your bias towards some people will allow you to be more neutral. To gain respect.

Take Accountability

Another common misconception is that admitting your mistakes will cause blame and shame from your colleagues.

For this reason, people try to hide their mistakes. Or worse, blatantly ignore them.

Taking accountability for your mistakes, loudly, garners respect. Not shame.

When you make a mistake, immediately take action to find a solution and rectify the problem. 

And when the business tries to root cause the situation by finding out what happened, take responsibility. Publicly.

There is no shame in making mistakes. It is human.

As long as the mistake was honest, and not blatant negligence, taking responsibility for it will demonstrate your commitment to doing what is best for the business.

This is worthy of respect. It is the sign of a great leader.

Mistakes are not failures. They are part of the growth process.

Respect Work-Life Balance

People value their personal time and personal lives.

In order to show people respect, you must show respect towards this balance.

Not everyone is able to work the same hours, attend 6pm meetings, or answer emails at 10pm. 

This is okay. And should be expected.

The modern work environment is very different from the 80s or 90s. Work-life balance is very much respected by good employers.

Performance should be rated by employees’ ability to drive the business to success. Not how many hours they are in the office. 

So if you have a situation when you need someone’s time outside of normal business hours, don’t assume that you can have it.

Discuss it with them first. 

Ensure you are not abusing asking for their time outside of business hours by doing it constantly.

Don’t expect an instant reply to a 10pm email.

If you show respect towards their life outside of work, it shows respect to them as people. Not just employees.

How Do You Respond to a Disrespectful Boss or a Culture of Disrespect?

Dealing with disrespect in the workplace is not easy and is very situation dependent.

When it comes to a culture of disrespect across an organization, it is unlikely that you will be successful in making significant changes unless you are in a high leadership position.

Even then, it requires difficult decisions and significant time.

Otherwise, a culture of disrespect will quickly lead to an overall toxic work environment

You will need to assess whether it is worth staying at such an employer, and for how long, for your career development.

There are many great opportunities out there and it is usually not worth staying in such a work environment for the long-term. Don’t let fear of the unknown keep you in a bad situation.

If you are dealing with one particular employee, or your boss, this is a more manageable situation.

First, it is best to try to work through this relationship between the two of you. Don’t rush to bring in leadership or HR to solve it for you. 

Second, you must always stay professional. Show respect to the individual and demonstrate that you want to work with them to drive the business forward.

Third, have a private conversation. When discussing disrespect, keep your feedback focused on how it impacts your ability to support the business. 

It is also a good tactic to ask for feedback on how you could have handled the situation better, even if you took a completely professional approach, as it is a gentle way to highlight their mistakes.

For example,

I noticed you were not very receptive to my proposal for this project during the meeting. I was disappointed as I feel that your support is critical to the project’s success.

Do you have feedback on how I could improve my pitch to better demonstrate its value?

If you are dealing with your manager, check out how to give feedback to a boss.

On rare occasions, disrespect can cross into harassment. Or your good faith efforts to mend a relationship will be in vain.

If this particular relationship with an employee is impacting the business, and you have been unable to rectify it, it’s a good time to call on leadership or HR to help.

Remember, always stay professional and show respect at work. Especially in difficult situations.

So those are my tips on how to short respect at work and command it!

Have you dealt with disrespect in the workplace? How did you overcome it? 

Let me know below!

Check out these other articles to improve your work performance:

How to Provide Feedback to a Manager

21 Most Effective Ways to Improve Work Performance

How to Write a Professional Email: 11 Useful Tips

How to Show Respect at Work (and Command it!)

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