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Respect is Like Air

Just as air is essential to breathing and our existence, respect is essential to success in our work life. We know we need respect in all of our work relationships to fuel our energy and make us feel rewarded for our contributions. How can we get more respect at work?

Generally, showing respect generates returned respect. It's a boomerang. Therefore, use the opportunities presented every workday to show respect:
  • Listen actively
  • Show that you hear and understand
  • Collaborate - actually work together

A few tips on listening, empathy, and collaboration to demonstrate respect:

Listen in a way to give yourself every chance to hear:

  • Concentrate on the person speaking to you, and try to not think of the impact on you.
  • Make and keep eye contact. Don't let a tense situation keep you from looking the other person in the eye.
  • Try not to do anything else while listening. The false efficiency of "multi-tasking" is a serious impediment to showing respect as a listener.
  • Ask clarifying questions to be sure you understand. This gives you more critical information and prevents false assumptions and premature responses.
  • Participate in the conversation without monopolizing it. If speaking is your strength, you may need to be a more patient listener.
  • Don't forget to reframe what you have heard to show that you understand what the other person is saying.
  • Stay with the topic of the conversation; don't go off track.

Show that you understand what is said:

  • Work hard at hearing without judging.
  • Ask what the impact of a situation is on the speaker in order to understand his/her feelings and viewpoints.
  • Use humor appropriately. Used sensitively, humor can relax a conversation. However, humor that discounts the situation at hand or minimizes feelings is risky and can be damaging.
  • Keep private information confidential. This honors the person in the current situation and it builds trust for the future.
  • Take the other person's feelings into account when it is necessary to give bad news.

Collaborate as partners and actually work together:

  • Share information as freely as you can. Even when sensitive information must be kept confidential, some facts can be released. Go ahead.
  • Give praise when it is deserved. Recognizing how someone has done well in one situation isn't a blanket approval of every situation. Don't be stingy when a team member has made a contribution.
  • Involve others in making decisions. You'll be surprised with the results both in new ideas and in how quickly a relationship can become stronger.
  • Look for anything you have in common with your colleague, and work together on short-term, small goals. Respecting the value someone brings to a project and working together toward a goal can be an ultimate demonstration of respect in the workplace.

Remember the saying "Respect is like air. If you take it away, it's all people can think about" (Crucial Conversations, 2002). When you notice that emotions are so highly charged that they are getting in the way of logical discussion, your colleague may be telling you something — dignity and respect are all he or she can think about right then. When this happens, reach out to repair any emotional damage and restart your efforts to create respectful working relationship. Make a special effort to listen, be empathetic, and collaborate. Work relationships won't "work" without it!

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