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Respect is something we largely demonstrate through our words, actions and behaviours towards others. In its simplest form, respect is about treating those around us as we would like to be treated – positively, fairly and equally. By this definition, what we come to believe to be respectful or disrespectful is a matter of opinion shaped by our own values, what we learn and our past experiences. It’s not something we’re formally trained in at school or at work, but instead, learn from a young age from those around us.
Respect in the workplace is something I don’t believe as individuals or organisations we pay enough attention to. Think about it. Why don’t job specifications have respect as one of the most desirable skills? Why don’t our objectives at work include the need to be more respectful to our colleagues and customers? Despite being a fundamental social skill, respect at work is often something that’s assumed or implied, but this shouldn’t be the case.
Here at Rufus we want to buck the trend, so this week will mark the very first of our annual Rufus Respect Week. Where we hope a week of workshops and talks will assist us in being more aware of the importance of respect in the workplace.
So today, I challenge each of us, myself included, to take four practical steps towards becoming more respectful at work this week and beyond. This will hopefully be a useful starting point to evaluate our words, actions and behaviours towards others at work in a constructive and impactful way.
Step 1 – Defining and observing what respect means to you
The key to having and showing respect to others is to first understand what respect means to you. Start this week by writing down two or three things you believe define respect at work. Think about the types of behaviours you respect in your role models, your past experiences where you have felt valued and appreciated by others, or situations in which you’ve had a positive impact on someone else’s working day. At the end of each working day, using your definition of respect as the benchmark, document a few moments you think demonstrate respect or disrespect in action.
Doing this exercise on a regular basis will not only help you become more aware of your own actions and behaviours and their potential impact, but the actions of others around you too. Acknowledging both positive and negative patterns in our behaviour is a critical first step towards collectively challenging and changing our behaviours for the better. Shaping them in a way that’s much more considered, thoughtful and as a result, respectful.
Step 2 – Taking action based on why rather than what
At work it can be easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what is happening around you rather than why it’s happening, especially when you’re busy and under a great deal of pressure. Think of it as a human shortcut. It’s when we hear but we don’t listen, or we assume rather than validate. Often, it’s in these scenarios we neglect the importance of respect – for ourselves and others.
In the spirit of being more respectful this week, select one work scenario in which you would usually be reactive to. Maybe you’ve lost a pitch you worked tirelessly on for weeks, or you’ve received some negative feedback about work you’ve delivered. Whatever the scenario, rather than reacting to what has happened immediately, instead, take some time to reflect on why this has happened.
Interrogate the broader context of the situation and the individuals involved – consider their needs, motivations and pressures. Even if you never find out the real why, it doesn’t matter as hypothetical whys will provide you with the perspective required to respond in a more respectful way. Discussing hypothetical whys with colleagues before responding to certain situations can also be a sure way to be more positive and proactive in your response and less reactive.
Step 3 – Reconsidering your email body language
In face-to-face communication, humans rely on both verbal and non-verbal information such as facial expressions and body language for information. However, if like me you regularly use email for day-to-day communications, you’ll be aware that writing in a certain way doesn’t guarantee it’ll be received in the way you intended. This is because the way we write (the tone) in email is even more important than in person owing to the lack of physical cues available to us. It’s why this week I challenge you to be more conscious of your email tone, including your choice of words, punctuation, letter case, sentence length and emojis to name a few. Look at a previous email you’ve sent or one you are due to send and ask yourself these two simple questions:
1. What’s your relationship with the receiver and is represented in your response? If for example the receiver is more senior, should your email be more formal, and less emoji based?
2. What mood or emotional state do you believe the receiver is in and is your email considerate of this? If for example you know the receiver is in a rush or frustrated, consider short, concise sentences which deliver facts and information clearly.
By asking yourself these simple questions and ensuring your ‘email body language’ sufficiently answers them, you’ll be showing a greater respect for others and their time. And asking those around us to provide feedback on these questions before we’ve sent the email gives us insight into how our communications may or may not be received by others. If nothing else, it will hopefully prevent us from being branded a ‘keyboard warrior’.
Step 4 – Sharing your positive steps and understandings
Showing others respect starts with an awareness of your words, actions and behaviour. It then develops through continuous self-evaluation and improvement. Making others aware of their words, actions and any behaviour you don’t believe to be respectful is also just as important as being respectful yourself.
Whatever steps you take this week to become more respectful at work, make sure you capture and share you what you’ve learnt to encourage others to act. Create a physical or online space to share your learnings amongst colleagues, or write a short blog sharing your experiences of consciously being more respectful to those around you. Respect is a complex social skill, it can often feel intangible – the more we do collectively to make universal respect more real and tangible, the better.
If we, as individuals and organisations, make a more conscious effort to keep thinking about the theme of respect in the workplace, both this week and beyond, we will become more respectful. As I’ve alluded to throughout the four steps, I’m talking about small rather than radical changes in our day-to-day life that may challenge our behaviours and actions as well as others for the better. More open discussions with your colleagues about what giving and receiving respect in your organisation or industry should mean. Evaluating your ability at the end of the working week to show respect to others around you. Or actively going out of your way to find out more about others and celebrating our points of difference rather than judging or assuming.
Respect is undeniably something that’s subjective, but it’s also infinite. It should be something we all endeavor to learn and practice throughout our working lives because there’s always potential for each of us to be more respectful to those around us. That’s something we should all respect.