Want employees to do their best possible work? Show some respect.
Want teams to collaborate and smash goals? Show some respect.
Want colleagues to support you and your ideas? Show some more respect.
We aren’t just suggesting you give the Aretha Franklin-level of respect because it’s the nice thing to do.
Respect from the boss is a research-proven want to improve just about everything in the workplace.
Rudeness: The enemy of respect
And while respect is more important than ever, it seems more difficult than ever. Almost 75% of people believe others are more rude now than they were two decades ago, a Statista survey found. Even worse: Rudeness is about as contagious as the common cold, another study found.
That’s where respect — especially from managers to employees – comes in.
“Roughly one out of 25 colleagues … feel they are not respected, that they don’t belong, or perhaps even feel inferior. It’s hard to imagine that people who feel this way are able to do their best work or reach their potential,” says Joseph Folkman in the 90th Percentile Podcast. He’s the president of Zenger/Folkman and coauthor of The Trifecta of Trust: The Proven Formula for Building and Restoring Trust.
Folkman and his (dare we say, respected) colleague Jack Zenger did a multi-year study of almost 5,000 employees to find the state of respect. More importantly, they found seven behaviors that give employees the strongest sense of respectful treatment.
Here’s what to do:
1. Keep a finger on the pulse
In the throes of managing projects, processes and people, many managers struggle to find time to take an interest in their employees’ personal lives. Some prefer to keep a distance, believing they can’t be friends with subordinates.
But the researchers say you don’t have to be friends to show concern, compassion and interest in employees’ lives. Ideally, you just want to let employees know you’re there if they want to talk about sensitive issues or deep concerns.
Make a point to reach out when you don’t need anything and ask questions such as, ”Are we making it possible for you to balance your work and your personal life?” or “How is your family doing at this moment?”
2. Establish trust
Here’s the bad news: If one person on your team doesn’t trust you, it lowers the level of trust from the rest of the team. Intentional or not, the non-truster can easily poison the well.
The good news: You can build trust by establishing positive relationships, sharing expertise and knowledge, and being consistent. The binding agent here is consistency. Being a positive realist and sharing with the intent to help, not brag, all the time helps employees understand what they can expect from you.
3. Make peace
Conflict is usually part of healthy teams. Respectful conflict stirs creativity and helps with problem-resolution. But petty conflict can break down teams and build a culture of disrespect.
While managers want to let respectful conflict do its magic, they want to stop destructive conflict early. Ignoring issues — or just letting employees “work it out” — can cause significant damage. Use an even hand — the same level of involvement for all team members — to mend conflicts and maintain harmony.
4. Balance results with realities
Employees feel disrespected when the boss prioritizes results over all else — most especially, their well-being. For instance, a manager demands overtime when she knows an employee is struggling with childcare.
The best leaders balance results with the realities of the people who produce them. We refer to work/life balance so often these days, it’s practically cliché. But it’s real — and respected managers continually check that their employees are achieving it, recognizing that sometimes work gets more attention and sometimes life gets more attention.
5. Be open to differences
Just asking employees for their opinion is a sign of respect. But failing to listen to, accept different perspectives or implement their ideas is the exact opposite.
Leaders want to ask for, listen to and engage with employees’ opinions. Even better, encourage them to bring perspectives that challenge yours to the table. It proves you’re open to new ideas and interested in understanding more.
6. Give honest feedback
Honest feedback — even when it’s critical — given directly and in the right way builds a culture of respect.
Feedback should be a fair and balanced reflection of what’s going on. For instance, if someone makes mistakes 10% of the time, then you should give 10% negative feedback. The rest should be positive feedback.
Let employees know you see what they do well, not just where there’s room for improvement.
7. Embrace diversity
In their research, Zenger and Folkman often heard employees who felt disrespected say, “I’m different” or “I don’t fit in.”
Many leaders unintentionally make employees feel that way through unconscious biases, personal blind spots and confirmation biases. Bottom line, many leaders tend to under- or overrate their ability to treat everyone equally.
Fixing this can be difficult because we’re usually blind to our biases. So ask trusted colleagues — with differing perspectives — to check your decisions and behaviors for bias.