Mutual respect in the workplace

06 Feb 2024

McKacy Prince-Martin

The workplace is a sacred tapestry that is woven by unique individuals, each possessing a myriad of ideologies, skill sets, emotions, attitudes, belief systems and approaches. In such a mixed environment, there is bound to be regular spurts of conflict.
In navigating said conflict, one must always be cognizant of the fundamental thread that forms the foundation of successful organisational culture – Respect.
Respect is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as ‘high or special regard’ but a 2020 Legacy Business Culture article coined the term as ‘an active process of non-judgmentally engaging people from all backgrounds with the intent to increase awareness and effectiveness.’ In the modern workplace, respect extends well beyond the confines of mere courtesy, political correctness, and sugar-coated protocol. In fact, one Harvard Business Review study found that out of 20,000 employees, respect was identified as the most integral leadership behaviour, which stimulated greater employee commitment and engagement.

Another study, which was cited in the Memphis Business Journal, found that 80% of the employees surveyed believed that lack of respect was a serious problem in their respective workplaces and 60% of those respondents felt that the problem was getting worse. This raises the question: Why do team members feel the need to be disrespectful? The reasons are endless. Some managers may display disrespectful behaviour towards staff when they perceive a need to assert authority and demonstrate control. If left unchecked and unmeasured, this power dynamic can contribute to employees feeling undervalued and demoralised.
Ineffective leadership skills and inadequate mentorship can also serve as major contributors to disrespectful behaviour. On the other hand, disrespect from staff may stem from unresolved workplace matters, general disregard for authority figures or even unregulated fear of the unknown. Both managers and subordinates can also be disrespectful due to a lack of emotional intelligence.

The cost of chronic disrespect may include increased rates of absenteeism and staff turnover, decreased innovation and creativity and an overall lack of morale and psychological safety. As such, it is recommended that the team engages in the following activities to build a culture of respect:
Get to know your team – This could be achieved through team building activities such as a games night or family day events, or even by using simple methods such as the Perceptual Positions Technique or the Johari Window Visual Framework.

Value Diversity – Nellie Borrero, managing director and senior strategic advisor, once said, “Diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice we make every day. As leaders, we have to put out the message that we embrace and not just tolerate diversity.”
Respect may also dictate that team members, especially those in leadership positions, express a willingness to appreciate others for who they truly are as opposed to trying to homogenize them.

Build Trust & Rapport with Team Members – Management guru and author, Stephen Covey opined, “Trust is the glue of life… It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”
Respectful communication stimulates trust and rapport between team members. Showing genuine concern for the issues experienced by team members establishes a level of familiarity and respect.

Encourage Open Communication – Peter Drucker, Austrian-American consultant and educator, once said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
Team members should be encouraged to engage in open dialogue within the workplace. They should feel safe to speak truth to power without fear of repercussion or consequence. Employees are more likely to express their ideas, concerns, and feedback when they know their opinions are valued.

Resolve Conflicts – Conflicts are inevitable in any workplace and a small conflict can ripple outward and affect the entire team. Leaders should commit to providing resources and training tailored to facilitate effective conflict resolution.

Mutual respect is, without a doubt, the cornerstone of all healthy and thriving professional spaces. It forms the basis of resilient culture, trust, and camaraderie. It should be reinforced by management attitudes and incorporated into policies and procedures. Rank and position shouldn’t be the only criteria for respecting someone. Mother always said, “Treat others the way you would like to be treated.” This maxim continues to resonate throughout time and space.

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