Choosing Respect in a Divisive Environment

Welcome to 2017.  It feels like everyone is at each other’s throats at the least provocation. Is it just me? Or we are all walking on egg shells all the time to avoid setting someone else off. Yesterday someone said to me, “It seems like EVERYONE has had their ‘respect chip’ removed.”

I am not sure we can do much about the disrespectful environment in Washington, but what I DO know is that dignity, respect and civility in the workplace still matter. We CAN do something about that. According to a series of studies done by Drs. Christine Porath and Christine Pearson, incivility in the office chips away at all areas of a company’s well-being. Their research showed that everyone who experiences workplace incivility responds in a negative way. Employees become less creative and more lethargic, often getting so fed up they just leave. Over half of the respondents of these studies confessed that they deliberately decreased their efforts or lowered the quality of their work as a result of feeling disrespected.

So how do we stem the tide of this incivility epidemic in our places of work?  There are companies who have made it a priority to “hire nice.”  Panera Bread, for example has a series of hiring questions designed specifically to weed out those who would not fit well in a wholly cooperative, noncompetitive environment. While many companies put hiring focus on aggressive personality traits, because they think those personality traits are a sign of ambition, Panera’s hiring practices have proven that you can be a go-getter and a high achiever while still being respectful and nice.

But if this is not the norm for your company – if it is not ingrained in the corporate environment, then it has to begin one person at a time. It has to start at a truly grass roots level. It is the responsibility of each and every one of us to make a different choice – to choose to be respectful at work, and by doing so begin a movement.

During a consulting call recently, I had a client wail to me, “I know I should not have said what I said,” she said. “It was disrespectful, but I just can’t POSSIBLY respect him – not after everything he’s done and said.” I understood exactly where she was coming from. I certainly have met people who, for whatever reason – maybe it’s their words or their behaviors, maybe it’s our differing ethics – whatever the reason, I simply can’t find any scrap of ANYTHING to respect.

I offered her insight based upon words my father, The Colonel, often said to me. “You don’t have to respect everyone, young lady. You don’t have a right to disrespect ANYONE, young lady.”

You see, there is a major difference between respecting someone and choosing to treat someone with respect. You may not respect your supervisor or co-worker (for example), because of the way they consistently lose their temper and hurl profanity in the office. But to behave disrespectfully toward them brings you down to a similar level – with or without profanity. In a grass roots movement to rebuild respectful working environments, it is our responsibility to take Higher Ground and lead by example.

In his book, How to Deal with Difficult People, Paul Friedman said something that resonated with me – perhaps because of my father’s admonition. Friedman said, “I choose to treat this person with respect, whether or not I like what they think, say, or do.” Treating someone (anyone, everyone) with respect, regardless of their words, ethics or behaviors, is a daily choice. Sometimes it comes down to a moment by moment choice. Leading by example is often a very steep and rocky path. It is a path worth pursuing every day. So here are four “Be’s” you can focus on that will help you to stay on the respectful path.

Be of Honorable Character

Dale Carnegie, author of How to Make Friends and Influence People, said “Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain, but it takes character and self-control to be respectful, understanding and forgiving.”  The Colonel (less eloquent than Dale Carnegie) always told me that it takes a life time to build a reputation of character and only one “ah poop” to tear it down. Character is the solid foundation upon which your reputation rests. There is a well-known thought from the famous author, “Anonymous” that specifies: “Character is doing what’s right when nobody’s looking.”  I agree. (I think this fellow, Anonymous knows what he’s talking about.)  Building a respectful character involves being disciplined in what we do and say even when we think no one is looking.

Be Truthful

Spanish philosopher Baltasar Gracian said, “A single lie destroys a whole reputation for integrity.”  This is so true.  Always tell the truth. (Don’t even dabble in “little-bitty-white-lies.”)  As it relates to being respectful, I have also found it beneficial to stop, before I open my mouth and think – so that I am certain what the actual truth is.  While you think, don’t elaborate.  It’s a natural tendency of human nature that as we think, we tend to add our own perceptions into the mix. When we do this, the perceived truth tends to expand.  Don’t do it.  Trim the truth down to the barest minimums of known facts.  Furthermore, when you tell the truth, do so in a manner that is not harsh.  The well-worn adage, “the truth hurts” should not have to apply.  There should rarely be a need to be harsh in offering truthful statements. When you develop a reputation of someone who always tells the truth in a respectful manner, then you can comfortably expect the truth from others in your conversations.  The bottom line is that, in order to feel respected, people need to feel they can trust you.

Be On Time

The only completely finite commodity on the planet is time.  If the human population of the Earth were eradicated overnight, the natural resources that we are consuming at such an alarming rate – the minerals, fossil fuels, clean water, clean air, and the ozone layer – all of these would replenish and right themselves in time.  It might take a millennia, but it would happen. Money is fluid. If it is lost or spent, more can be earned and accumulated.  That means that there is truly only one wholly finite commodity: time.  Once it’s spent, it is spent – and you can never get it back. Therefore, when you are late – and furthermore, cause someone to have to wait on you – you are robbing them of something they will never be able to get back.  I think that is just profoundly disrespectful.

The Colonel used to say that if you aren’t ten minutes early, you’re late.  I will not presume to impose The Colonel’s standards on you. I will encourage you to always be on time.  Respect yourself and others enough to respect their time and never rob them of the one thing they can never replace.

Be Positive

I’ve never met, nor have I ever heard of anyone that is wildly successful in this world with a consistently negative attitude.  Your attitude determines your altitude.  It is the single most important factor in your success. Whether you know it or not, you are always leaking. The question is, what are you leaking? Is it positive or is it negative?  We have all met people who walk into a room and the whole room lights up.  We have also encountered people who suck the very light and life from the room.  These people are great black holes of negativity, consuming any and all optimism in their wake.  A consistently negative attitude prevents others from seeing the value of the person through the tar of negativity. In essence they are preventing themselves from being treated with respect – which causes them to behave disrespectfully in kind and it becomes a vicious cycle.

When you begin, by simply focusing on these four things to begin with, as daunting as it may seem, we can make a difference. We can lead by example to make our working environments more civil and respectful.

About the Author

As the daughter of a career Air Force officer, The Colonel’s Daughter, Lauren Schieffer, CSP gained a profound independence and ability to adapt to changing circumstances. The lessons she learned from “The Colonel” have helped her make smart decisions and overcome adversity with humility and a sense of humor.  Lauren helps global audiences communicate respectfully and avoid unnecessary conflict. She has spoken in seven countries to associations, organizations, federal, state and local governments, and Fortune 500 companies.
References (2)

The Harvard Business Review: The Price of Incivility: Porath and Pearson: 2013
Today: Help wanted, Successful candidate must be nice: Allison Linn 2015