It was Friday morning. We were taking the elevator down to the basement this morning to drive in to work, my husband and I. One of those days when we had a long wait before one of the elevators finally showed up, it was the smaller one, and it already had a family of two adults and two children occupying it. Well, we fit in. And the elevator continued its journey into the building’s underbelly.
Respect? What’s That? – The Trigger Story
It stopped two floors down, the doors opened and there was the laundry man. My husband and I started to shift and try make place for one more person while the couple with us refused to budge an inch. As the elevator doors started to close, the woman in the elevator had the audacity to yell over my shoulder to the laundry to come back up to her apartment in 15 minutes to collect her laundry for the day. I was fuming from within and a conscious moment away from making a severely condescending comment.
Another level below, the lift doors opened again and there stood another apartment resident. My husband stood rooted knowing the others in the elevator weren’t going to budge. But before we could blink, they were pushing into each other to make space for him to enter, without anyone asking or prompting. We were stumped.
I walked out of the elevator with visible anger, asking myself if I should have openly said something to this couple. Ask them what made them respect the co-resident more than the laundry man? And what subconscious messages were they sharing with their young school-going children who would be observing this behavior?
More importantly, I was asking myself, “Is respect really so difficult to give”? My most memorable lessons on respect came from Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears A Who. And I wanted to sit this family down and make them watch it. The lines still echo in my ears.
Let this be a lesson for one and for all. A person is a person, no matter how small.
The more I thought about the incident on Friday morning, I realized this wasn’t an instance in isolation. There were so many other moments when I had seen this – the lady who brings us coffee at work, the office boy who runs around sending our invoices out on time, the server at the restaurant we had our last meal at, the person next to us in the flight who was trying to pull their luggage out from the cabin, the colleague who was talking to us before we got distracted – there are so many people we ignore every day.
It’s convenient how most people do not consider ignoring as disrespecting. But that is really where it all starts. It’s as if the subconscious is saying, “If you don’t exist for me, I don’t need to respect you”.
Respect is not only the right thing to do but also that it pays to unclog those filters that make us ignore people and start looking at the people around us with respect. What goes around, comes around!
Respect is important
Every leadership book in the business will tell you that leadership is about humility and respect. Look around you, in your everyday lives – who do you look up to? Who do you want to interact with? Who do you believe is a true leader? Subconsciously, we all look for people who respect themselves and the people around them. We elect prime ministers who are able to do this, we admire CEOs who run our companies like this and we listen to family members who are able to do this.
Yet we find, practicing ourselves consciously, what we expect in others subconsciously, is not always the easiest thing to do.
I remember once reading an article that shared the story of how a visitor once found the front office executive to be gruffer than the CEO. It’s easy to say be humble, but where does it come from? How does one do that?
Humility comes from respecting every individual around you, no matter who they are, where they come from or what they do.
Respect for the individual lets you believe they are thinking adults who can make decisions for themselves. Respect lets you believe that everyone can have something to teach you.
Without the ability to respect sincerely and openly, true leadership is rather impossible.
Respect is simple
It’s not about holding a felicitation ceremony or doing anything special. It’s about making people feel they are special. At least, that they count. And they should. Faking it is not respect either, right?
Using the words “thanks”, “sorry” and “please” are a great place to start.
Draw tally marks against your use of these words for one day. Check how many times you really use them. And for whom. Just making politeness universal is a step forward. I recently had a colleague share that what he had learnt from me was to thank people generously.
Secondly, politeness is not only in words. Learning to be polite in actions really helps. Step out of your role and help some else at work out, remember that backpack that you can’t see could knock out people behind you.
For those who really care about the benefit in doing something, here’s the answer to what’s in it for me: You love completing your assignments when they are set by Professor Mathew.
I still remember him from my economics class in graduation. A simple, heavily accented, shy man – just brilliant at his subject! And every time I interacted with him, he respected me. He believed that I was good at the subject. He encouraged me to do more, challenge him, ask questions. He took time to review it. He appreciated my work. He gave me time when I needed it, even if he was busy. And that really made me respect him – more than I would respect somebody for well, “being a professor”. It was his behavior, not his position that made me a fan. And if Professor Matthew gave an assignment, I worked hard for it, I wanted to do my best, I completed it before time, I wanted him to be proud of my work.
Respecting an individual leads to discretionary effort on their part. It drives a person to do something for you, even when it is not a rule, a policy or job description to do so.
I have since observed this principle in action as a dispassionate observer to my personal and professional relationships. And I can confidently say it works.
Respecting Others: Some Tips
Here are five things we could start doing at work and at home – with our leaders, our colleagues, our team members, our support staff, our friends, our families. Things that we tend to miss out on in our busy everyday lives.
- Notice people – their presence, their absence, their contributions, their emotions, their appearance
- Communicate – short, simple, consistent “hello”s, “how are you”s, acknowlegdment, appreciation, constructive criticism
- Explain, don’t order – help people understand why you want something done a certain way rather than expecting they should do what you tell them to
- Ask and listen – communication is never respectful if it is one-way. Make it mutual. Ask for what others think and listen to their response. If you ask “How are you”, wait for an answer
- Find positives – everyone has something right about them. Make it your mission to find at least one thing to appreciate about everyone you meet every day. It is not so you can add a little compliment to your small talk. But it helps you find a strength in which to anchor your respect for the person
And never forget that line somewhere from the beginning of this article – Respect Yourself.