How To Show Respect In The Workplace

By Matthew Zane
Sep. 26, 2022
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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Respect is the foundation of any stable relationship, including the relationships you build and maintain at your job. For optimal efficiency and effectiveness, respect is essential in the business world.

Employees can’t work to their full potential if they don’t feel respected and valued by their peers, superiors, and subordinates. If you want to promote a healthy work environment where collaboration thrives, respect is a key prerequisite.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to…well, the people you work with. We will go over what respect in the workplace is, how to show respect in the workplace, and why it’s important.

Key Takeaways:

  • In the workplace, showing integrity, open-mindedness, and professionalism will promote an environment of respect.

  • The best way to show respect in the workplace is to not insult people or their opinions and to practice active listening.

  • It’s important to be considerate of others’ workload of offer to help, and accept help when it is offered.

  • Respect in the workplace can help:

    • Job satisfaction

    • Reduce stress

    • Increase employment engagement

    • Better communication and collaboration

How To Show Respect In The Workplace

Defining Respect at Work

Respect in the workplace isn’t much different than respect in other areas of your life – treat others the way you’d like to be treated. You’ll run into all sorts of diverse backgrounds in your professional life, and while you may not always see eye to eye with your colleagues, treating everyone with respect is paramount.

  • Respect is about recognizing that those around you also have valuable experiences, opinions, and rights, just as you do. When someone pitches an idea or shares an experience, it’s important to validate the merit of their input.

    It doesn’t mean you always have to capitulate and give up on your own opinions every time; it just means that you have to take everyone’s feelings into account.

  • In the workplace, showing integrity, open-mindedness, and professionalism will promote an environment of respect. Respect (or a lack thereof) is apparent in the way you speak to people, nonverbal cues you give with body language, and how closely you listen to others.

  • Companies can institute policies regarding respect in the workplace, so everybody’s on the same page. Pay equity, feedback policies, workplace flexibility, and work-life balance are key areas where an organization can showcase its respect for its employees.

  • Respect is also about involvement and input. When you’re asked for your opinion or assigned consequential tasks, your company is showing respect for your professionalism and contributions.

  • It’s also critical to dispel some commonly-held myths about respect. Namely, that elders deserve more respect and that respect is something that you earn. Your elders certainly deserve respect, but no more than your junior colleagues – respect isn’t something that accrues over a lifetime.

    Additionally, nobody needs to “earn” respect. You should always respect others, regardless of the respect they show you or others. Those who continually display a lack of respect can be dealt with through other means – but always respectfully.

How to Show Respect at Work

There are countless ways to show respect at work. Most of these overlap with the basic good manners that your parents, teachers, and mentors have taught you throughout your life:

  1. Don’t insult people or their opinions. We’ll start out with an obvious one – name-calling and other offensive remarks about a person or their ideas have no place at work. It’s disrespectful and ultimately unproductive.

    This goes for seemingly harmless nicknames that make people uncomfortable (e.g., sweetheart, dude, etc.)

  2. Praise more, criticize less. You’d be surprised how far a little recognition goes in making a person feel valued and respected. Give people credit when they do something particularly impressive.

    Constructive criticism is certainly essential at work, but don’t provide solely negative feedback 100% of the time or the person will feel attacked. And when you have to say something negative about someone’s performance, don’t be a jerk about it.

  3. Practice active listening. At some point in your life, you’ve probably talked to someone for a minute or two before you realized they weren’t paying attention at all – it’s not a nice feeling.

    When someone is speaking, focus on their words and what they’re trying to get across, and ask productive questions to show you’re listening.

    Don’t be that guy who’s just waiting for his turn to speak. Or, even worse, the guy that doesn’t even wait his turn and just interrupts people. Don’t hog the conversation.

  4. Think before you speak. We’ve all said some pretty dumb stuff in our lives, and we could’ve avoided it with just a moment’s thought. Consider who’s in the room, different things people are sensitive about, and what impact your words might have.

    You shouldn’t have to screen every thought so thoroughly, but it’s always best to think twice in sensitive situations.

  5. Encourage diverse opinions. People feel respected when you let them have a say in things. Sometimes you have to institute a policy, and that’s just that; however, most of the time, you can afford to get everyone’s opinion on the matter.

    Leaders are great for setting direction and keeping things focused, but truly great leaders allow for some democratic action as well.

  6. Avoid gossip and complaining. A bit of gossip (Cindy in Accounting is getting married!) and a dash of complaining (jeez, this week has been hell, eh?) is pretty harmless.

    But when someone becomes the constant target of gossip and has to deal with whispers and strange behavior everywhere they go, it’s psychologically draining. And when you’re a constant source of negativity, you’re not respecting others’ right to a positive workplace.

  7. Consider your nonverbal communication. Sometimes, we say the right words but with the wrong tone or facial expression, and it gets picked up the wrong way because of it. Be consistent – don’t look happy when you’re giving bad news, and don’t sound condescending when you’re giving compliments.

    Also, think about your body language. Now more than ever, respecting people’s personal space is a big deal. Don’t touch people who aren’t comfortable with it (and assume no one is unless they indicate otherwise).

  8. Be considerate of others’ workloads. Asking for help now and then is fine and dandy, but don’t expect your coworkers to be at your beck and call 100% of the time. Respect that everyone has their own tasks to handle, and be polite and patient in requesting aid.

    Additionally, always express gratitude when someone has taken time out of their busy schedule to help with your work.

  9. Respond quickly. When someone sends you an email or calls you, make it a priority to get back to them quickly. While some emails/calls are more urgent than others, you should always try to get back to people in an appropriate amount of time.

  10. Help and accept help. Helping your coworker is a great way to show you respect them and want them to succeed. Just don’t go around providing unsolicited help all the time, or that could show the opposite of respect.

    Additionally, let other people help you sometimes. Americans love being independent and all, but showing that you respect your colleagues’ opinions and expertise makes them feel good about themselves.

    “We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know.” -W.H. Auden

  11. Trust others with meaningful tasks. This tip only applies if you’re in a position that delegates responsibilities. When you give workers tedious or unimportant work, it’s hard for them to feel respected or valued. Show that you trust your employees to complete critical tasks, and morale will skyrocket.

  12. Be transparent. Communicate early and often about any upcoming changes, issues, or big-picture information. When you trust your coworkers, subordinates, and superiors with an authentic glimpse into what’s going on, they know they’re being treated like adults.

  13. Follow through. This one’s not just about respect – it’s about your professional reputation. When you say you’re going to do something, do it. If something prevents you from following through on a promise, communicate it before the deadline, not after.

  14. Practice accountability. We all make mistakes, but the worst thing you can do is throw someone else under the bus. It won’t help to disrespect your colleagues in these situations and will only compound your mistake.

  15. Treat everyone equally. You’ll inevitably have favorites at work. It’s fine to have your buddies and the people you barely associate with, but when it comes time to assign tasks, promote people, or hand out raises, you’d better judge people only on merit.

    This also goes for treating the intern the same way you’d treat the CEO. Remember, everyone should be respected in the workplace, and they don’t have to do anything to earn it.

  16. Be polite. Good mornings, thank yous, and smiles – it’s the little things that go a long way in showing respect for people. Always be kind, and you’ll have no trouble being respectful.

  17. Recognize work-life balance. Don’t assume that your colleagues are workers without a life outside the office. Recognize and respect the fact that people have priorities outside of the workplace.

  18. Shine a light on disrespectful behavior (respectfully). It’s always hardest to remain respectful when dealing with a disrespectful person. They drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. But disrespect is like a disease in that it spreads rapidly if you don’t shut it down quickly.

    It can be uncomfortable, but you should always aim to confront disrespectful behavior in the workplace. The key is to do so through the proper channels and with the right attitude. If you can be a force for increased respect in your workplace, people will notice.

  19. Say “thank you”. This one may seem like common sense, but many people forget to say thank you for things. Often times people will say it but without sincerity. It’s important to show your gratitude and make sure people know you appreciate their time. Sending a quick email thanking your coworker for something or just stopping by their desk and saying it in person can go a long way.

  20. Smile more. Doing something as small as smiling to your coworkers when you make eye contact or when you see them first thing in the morning can show that you are considerate of others. People tend to be closed off and reserved and just giving a small smile can show that you are open to everyone.

The Importance of Respect in the Workplace

Everyone likes being respected, but sometimes it’s hard to show respect for someone who you really dislike. Regardless, try to recognize that disrespect creates a ripple effect where everyone is less happy and productive at work. Two wrongs don’t make a right, as the saying goes.

On the flip side, an organization where everyone shows respect creates a positive feedback loop. Everyone is comfortable sharing their thoughts at work, and nobody is afraid of being denigrated by their colleagues.

Respect in the workplace is essential for several reasons:

  1. Job satisfaction. According to a survey by SHRM, “respectful treatment of all employees is the most important factor contributing to employee job satisfaction.” It makes sense; it doesn’t matter if you’re paid well and have great benefits if you’re being treated poorly every day at work.

    When you’re respected at work, you can feel proud of your contributions and accomplishments. This leads to increased retention, more internal promotions, and less time spent on resolving workplace disputes.

  2. Reduces stress. All jobs have some element of stress, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the stress that incivility between colleagues creates isn’t just productivity-inhibiting; it’s downright toxic.

    For the mental and physical well-being of your colleagues, showing respect at all times is essential.

  3. Better communication and collaboration. It’s so much easier to ask employees for help when you feel respected at work. Seeing as collaboration and communication are two essential ingredients for optimal productivity, respect turns out to be a big deal.

    An organic professional development happens when respect is on display at all levels of a company. Everyone’s part of the same team, and their skills grow in tandem, as each person has something valuable to contribute to the bigger goals.

  4. Increased employee engagement. When people stop feeling respected at work, they often throw in the towel and do the bare minimum of work with minimal social interaction. And you can’t blame them – why would they go out of their way to engage with toxic attitudes, anyway?

    On the other hand, if you have positive interactions at work, you won’t shy away from them. It’s especially important for managers and supervisors to respect their employees’ contributions, or cynicism (and eventually burnout) can set in quickly.

  5. It’s fair. We’ve all seen favoritism and disproportionate levels of respect in our coworkers or superiors at some point.

    There are obvious ones like nepotism, harassment, bullying, and gossiping, but some unfair practices are more subtle than that.

    When you institute blanket guidelines for respect in the workplace, between all levels of the corporate hierarchy, employees can feel confident that they’re being treated the same as everyone else.

The above list is by no means comprehensive. There are a million little ways that consistent and mutual respect positively influences your experience at work.

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Matthew Zane

Matthew Zane is the lead editor of Zippia's How To Get A Job Guides. He is a teacher, writer, and world-traveler that wants to help people at every stage of the career life cycle. He completed his masters in American Literature from Trinity College Dublin and BA in English from the University of Connecticut.

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