4 Simple Ways to Foster Meaningful Respect at Work

January 4, 2021

Meaningful respect starts with finding common ground.

Respect is a hot-button issue these days—and one we don’t always tend to discuss respectfully. When it comes to being respectful, the Healthy Workforce Institute posits that whether we like it or not, how successful we are in showing respect is really up to the receiver to decide, not the sender.

Humans are complicated—each of us has our own cultural or regional identity, physical and psychological characteristics, and trauma histories—to name just a few factors that inform our perceptions of respect. Even with a library of self-help and etiquette guides at our disposal, there’s no instruction manual for understanding the unique aspects of a human being, so knowing how to show meaningful respect to another person isn’t always obvious.

Yet we keep speaking about “being respectful” as if we define it the same way.

A fundamental element of CPI training is establishing a common language in the workplace through which everyone can access a culture of caring and safety. That language is rooted in respect. While different people may not always agree on what “respect” concretely is or isn’t, there still might be a few small actions that can help us bridge our seemingly widening communication gaps—and have a genuinely positive outcome in return.

Establishing a common language of respect starts with these four simple strategies.

Here are four strategies for nurturing a common language of respect in your workplace. By the way—they’re very effective beyond the workplace, too!

1. Pay attention to the details.

Words like please and thank you are simple but effective places to start. Bolster these with genuine consideration. For example, if you say something considerate like, “Please let me know if I’ve offended you,” make sure to thoughtfully listen to the response, and if you’ve made a misstep, sincerely take responsibility for it and apologize.

2. Be nonjudgmental.

Really. Maybe even with a little dash of empathy. This tip comes straight from the CPI playbook. It’s easy to use our personal frame of reference to judge others, so setting our own experiences, values, and opinions aside is essential to demonstrating respect. And to recall a wonderful quote I’ve previously blogged about, “We are too much in the habit of judging ourselves by our intentions, and our neighbors by their actions.”

What if, instead of rushing to criticize, we opted for curiosity? A curious mind is an open one.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask questions—and to ask for permission to show support.

Often, when I’ve had a powerful encounter with another person, I’ll simply ask, “May I give you a hug?” It sounds like this would be awkward, but people often respond, “Yes, and thank you so much for asking.”

It’s not for us to decide what other people should or shouldn’t be okay with—but asking questions, seeking permission to respond supportively, and genuinely listening can help us learn.

4. Surrender your ego.

We aren’t going to be liked or respected by everyone we encounter—and while that can be a tough thing to accept, embracing that reality makes life immensely easier. At the end of the day, I want to know that I treated people with respect. If I learn I haven’t, I don’t want to respond defensively because my ego is bruised. I want to respond with curiosity and gratitude.

Letting go of my ego opens the potential for me to change my behavior so that I can better provide for the emotional safety of others.

Proactive Strategies for Promoting a Safe and Respectful Workplace

Download this free guide and access strategies for recognizing the warning signs of negative behavior and de-escalating situations in your workplace.


Don’t take my word for it—try it!

My challenge to you is to take time to connect with the different people in your life:

  • Those in your care
  • Your professional colleagues
  • Your loved ones

Ask them, “Please tell me, what does respect mean to you?”

Then listen. Remember—be curious. Be open. Set judgment and ego aside.

Be respectful.

For great tips on how to relieve stress and bounce back faster from burnout and fatigue, check out our podcast interview with author, Olympian, and Rhodes Scholar Bonnie St. John.

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