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How to Show Respect and Get Respect at Work

Updated: Oct 4, 2019

Sherry is the owner of a small company that recently acquired another company. Sherry and the previous owner, George, planned a company-wide meeting to formally transition their companies.

Sherry showed up thinking this would be a formality and a bit of a celebration. Much to her surprise, George gave her the stage and she shortly found out that none of George’s employees had been told anything about the acquisition! Can you say “awkward?!” That would be an understatement. Sherry was under the assumption that the previous owner had been talking to his employees about the sale and the transition all along.

That was the first of many uncomfortable situations. As to be expected in a situation like this, although a few employees were very positive, quite a few were highly resistant, and the rest felt like they were just thrown off a tall building and expected to land on their feet!

Sherry first called me about 6 months after the formal transition meeting. She explained that she had hoped it would work itself out. Sherry was now dealing with resistance, insubordination, inflexibility and rude behavior from a couple of people who couldn’t seem to get on board.

As we stepped back and looked at what had happened, Sherry could better understand what these people might be experiencing. Was it acceptable behavior? No. Was it intentional, or vindictive? No. It was most likely displaced anger, frustration, lack of trust and resentment.

Taking a few minutes to respect where they were, Sherry could begin to think about what she needed to do to build trust and respect. Sherry commented on how obvious it was now that she had some clarity herself. She realized that she really hadn’t been respectful of their experience at all - the whole thing had been a shock to her as well. She had been so frustrated at the lack of respect they had for her, that she couldn’t see from their point of view. Reflection is such a powerful leadership activity.

It takes empathy and compassion to respect where a person might be, what they are experiencing, how they are feeling, and how it is impacting their behavior. Once Sherry had an objective view of the situation, she stopped taking it so personally and began working on building trust, showing respect, and providing clarity and accountability.

Sherry wasn’t able to get both people on board. One person decided to leave. But Sherry felt confident she provided every opportunity for that individual and in the end, it was his decision to leave. It may have been easier for him to have a clean start somewhere else. Sherry admits she learned a great deal from the entire situation and grew immensely as a leader.

Sometimes life happens and we find ourselves in the middle of a mess.

We don’t always know what to do to prevent such situations, because we’ve never experienced it before. One thing I’ve learned is the only thing that will impact the future, is what we do right now, in the present moment. We can’t go back and change what happened in the past. But we can reflect and learn from it.

In part 3 of my 4-part webinar series on GRIT®, we’ll be talking more about Respect. Join me on June 6 at 2pm EST for The Monumental Truth About Respect in the Workplace. Topics include:

  • How to practice self-respect

  • How to balance taking care of yourself with helping others

  • Not allowing assumptions to get in the way

  • How to let go while remaining engaged



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