Earn Respect, Receive Respect

Emblazoned on the wall of one of the training rooms at the local county sheriff’s office where I live are the words,

Respect is earned, not demanded.”

I cannot agree with this statement more, yet across my professional life, and still to this day, I meet people who demand respect not on the basis of their actions but on the basis of their title or position within their respective professional organization. Sadly, the very act of demanding respect causes them to not only fail to earn respect, but to lose it as well.

I envision respect as a line graph.  The x axis represents time. The y axis represents the level of respect, with the higher the reach upward on the y axis representing greater respect, and the lower the reach representing a loss of or lower respect.

All human beings are initially deserving of respect. In my mental graph, when I first meet someone, I envision that we are at the intersection of Respect Sidebarthe beginning of the timeline and the baseline for respect. I have respect for them as a human being, but I have yet to experience enough interaction and observation to add to or detract from that baseline respect. As we move along the x axis of time, my perceptions will change and the respect line will fluctuate based on my observations and interpretations of the persons actions.

So what can us as employers, employees, customers, family members, friends, and even strangers do to keep our perceived respect above the baseline? Here are a few suggestions.

  1. Show respect. The fastest way to increase your own respect is to show respect.  Every human being wants to know that they have value and that others recognize it. Be respectful of others and they’ll respect you.
  2. Communicate cordially. Do you agree with every thought and opinion that the people you encounter in your life have? Of course not! We are all unique individuals and that is actually what makes our world such a rich and vibrant place to live. We can always remain cordial in our dealing with each other however, even when we don’t necessarily agree. If you have “hot topics” that you feel are better left untouched, then do so, and respect that others may also have their areas they would rather not talk about.
  3. Feel, don’t “see.” Appreciate the warmth, the kindness, the intelligence, the generosity, and the “heart” of those you interact with. If you do that, you will never face issues related to race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, and so much more. If you take the time to feel, you will see – the real person, the human.
  4. There is no license to superiority. Being the CEO of a company doesn’t make you better than or give you a license to deserve more respect than that of the lowest paid employee in your company.  Likewise, don’t immediately assume that the President or CEO of your company is a cold, untouchable autocrat when you have never taken the time to meet them or speak with them.  I do hold great respect for people who have worked hard and been very successful, but I also hold them to a higher standard that requires them to more diligently work to not jeopardize that respect.  I equally respect the laborer who reports for work day-in and day-out so that he can provide for his family and offer them perhaps a more stable life than he felt he had.
  5. Show understanding. Sometimes things are just out of people’s hands. When I was in college I worked for a hotel that insisted that its employees abide by the motto, “Yes I Can.”  The answer to any question asked by a guest was, “Yes I Can.”  But here was the reality:  the honest answer to some questions was, “I’m sorry, but No I Can’t.”  We all understand that we simply have some situations in our lives that are out of our hands. Understand that applies to everyone. Don’t make unreasonable demands upon people and then become angry when they cannot possible fulfill what it is you want. You will lose status in their eyes.
  6. Live by the Golden Rule. If that sounds overly simple, it’s because some of the best advice is overly simple.  The Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. You can’t really go wrong with that mindset.

Respect is one of the greatest things we can earn. It is also one of the highest compliments we can give.  Like a college GPA, if you have a high respect quotient, it takes a bit more effort to bring it down quickly, whereas if you start off with a low respect quotient, it is a much more difficult climb out of the hole. It can be done, but it’s a lot more work.

The bottom line is this: regardless of our status in life, we earn the respect we receive through the actions we show others, the good deeds we perform, and the overall way in which we conduct ourselves. It cannot be demanded. Those demands will fall on deaf ears.

All the best to you.

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