Two easy steps that will lead to mutual respect

In the three years we’ve had the cats, never have I seen them show one bit of interest in Grace’s bed. Until the other morning: that’s when it happened. Oliver walked in and snuggled up without one iota of doubt that he belonged there. Has a co-worker ever done something to you that you felt was completely out of line, without warning, or apology?

Have you ever had a manager or a co-worker show you a lack of respect?

I bet you have.

When two or more people come together come together to brainstorm ways to work through difficult relationships, respect is one of the first words that surfaces. “Everyone should respect one another,” is echoed again and again. Of course, it’s true. Respect is critical in the workplace. Without it, lots of bad things happen. Friction and turmoil, bad feelings, spiteful words and actions.

It’s really easy to throw around the word respect and then walk away thinking that everyone agrees and understands. Yet in the hours and days following that discussion, events happen that mirror the habits that got them feeling angry to begin with. I think the issue boils down to how one defines respect.

A couple of mornings ago I saw something that both tickled me and surprised me. And it was a clear illustration of how respect can be defined in multiple – and different – ways.

Grace is looking on as Oliver intrudes. The pout is Grace’s passive way to say, “I get no respect.” We often remain silent at work, too, when someone does something that we consider disrespectful. But how do we know if the other person sees it the way we do?

In the three years we’ve had the cats, I have never once seen either one of them interested to nap in Grace’s bed. They walk around it, sit beside it, but never in or on it. I’ve always taken that as a show of respect for her space.

So when I glanced up to see Oliver confidently walk right into the soft, cushy middle of Grace’s bean bag-style bed, my bottom jaw dropped. Is this really happening? What was he thinking? What will Grace’s reaction be as she watched along with me? After my moment of shock, I smiled as he snuggled in comfortably. Maybe it hadn’t been respect. Maybe this was the first time that bed looked inviting.

Surprisingly, Grace did not move from her spot, though she clearly saw what was happening. Her look turned to a sad pout, but she did nothing.

And that is a common occurrence in the workplace, too. We resign ourselves to the behavior of another, without giving our co-worker the benefit of sharing how her action impacted us. Maybe the person keeps us too long in a conversation, not respecting the time taken for frivolous chatter. Or perhaps a manager keeps asking us for the status on a project, not respecting that we have the skills to complete it on time.

I believe the single most common reason for a lack of respect in the workplace is caused by differences of work style that creates a perception that isn’t true. For example, some people are more sociable, therefore they value chit-chat more than another. Some people are more detail-oriented than others, therefore requiring more information and frequent status updates.

Rather than become aware of what motivates the action, we jump to a conclusion of lack of respect.

Here are my two simple steps that can lead you down a road of mutual respect:

  • When you experience an interaction that you feel shows disrespect, share the experience directly with the other person and explore how they viewed it. My bets are on the fact that the other person didn’t see it as disrespectful at all. Understand where they are coming from and discuss how to find a middle ground that works for you both.
  • Dedicate time when your team can begin to understand the differences in style. Becoming more aware of how others approach tasks and decisions will give you a healthy – and respectful – foundation for working together.

We’ll never know if Oliver’s decision to take over Grace’s bed was showing disrespect or just finding the best spot to sleep. But there are ways you can find out in your own situations.

So I’ll never know if Oliver was being disrespectful to Grace by curling up in her bed. It’s a possibility. It’s also possible that he just wanted a nice spot to rest and nobody else was in it. What workplace situations have happened to you lately that might not be as they seem?

Respect is all about being aware of yourself and how you’re fitting with the other person. How can you be respectful if you’re not aware?

If you’re wondering how to open up the conversation, I can help. Wouldn’t it be fun to explore your own styles and those of others? Check out how.

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  1. Marion on August 10, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    Another great blog, Robin!
    Such talent!

    • Robin on August 10, 2012 at 3:33 pm

      Thank you so much, Marion, for taking the time to write. It means a lot to me. Hope all is well with you!

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