The Leader’s Edge: Respect and Caring

There are three critical requirements for creating a culture of trust in the workplace: Authenticity, respect and caring and deep listening.

Respect and caring between two business women.Leaders must focus on their own authenticity and provide safety and support for their employees to do the same. (See The Leader’s Edge: Finding Authenticity for more on creating authenticity.) They must show respect for who their employees are and what they bring (see below) and we must carefully listen to fully appreciate their needs and their contributions, which we’ll be covering soon.

Here we explore the second prerequisite for a culture of trust: The demonstration of respect and caring.

We think of respect as considering self while holding another in esteem. This does not mean we like or think highly of every part of a person. It means that, in general, we find value in who this person is and something this person brings.

Nothing erodes trust like a lack of respect. In fact, people who don’t feel respected are much more likely to leave their jobs, even if they like the work and the company.

What constitutes a lack of respect? See what you might add to the list below:

 Tiny slights, small injustices, and subtle discriminations

  • Negative comments and stereotypes (See Ouch! That Stereotype Hurts )
  • Cyberbullying sexting and discrimination of younger workers (See Enterprise Media series on Harassment Training )
  • Gossip, accusations, spreading negative talk about fellow workers or bosses
  • Ignoring someone, not greeting or speaking when it would be appropriate, giving the “silent treatment”
  • Teasing: belittling, insulting comments thought to be funny or help us connect

We must consider that what is perfectly acceptable in one culture may not be in another. For example, it might be acceptable for people doing roadwork on a hot day to swear loudly at a situation. This would not be acceptable in many other work environments. Likewise, in some cultures, having eye contact with a person you don’t know well is a no-no and in others to avoid eye contact would be rude.

We see increasing diversity on every level in the workplace. On one hand, this leads to enormous benefits. On another, we need to learn what is respectful and accepted in various cultures. These cultures include different ethnicities, age groups, sexuality, etc.

Showing respect and caring is a primary principle of creating a culture of trust.

As leaders, it is up to us to get out the magnifying glass and examine the demonstrated values and accepted norms in our company. This includes the subtle and not-so-subtle verbal and non-verbal behaviors that pervade meetings and all personal and written encounters.

Every action, every communication, all of our non-verbal gestures, either engender respect and trust or create a culture where people don’t feel safe.

Part of getting out the magnifying glass is examining our personal values, assumptions and our language. I rarely meet anyone who would intentionally harm another person. Yet, I often hear unconscious comments or jokes that make unfair assumptions or don’t show respect.

This disrespect creates a deep feeling of, “I’m not safe here. Who I am and how I show up is not okay.” This lack of trust pervades the entire culture and it’s up to us as leaders to change it.

You may be asking yourself, “Do I need to genuinely like everyone on my team, everyone in the company? Some people get under my skin or rub me the wrong way; their mannerisms drive me nuts.”

No, you don’t need to approve of or like everything about a person. But it is immensely helpful, for you, for them and for the company, to see the value they bring. Carefully consider: Is there something I can appreciate about this person? Can I let go of my irritation and see what they bring to the team?

We have all felt disrespected at one time or another. We get the message clearly through verbal and non-verbal communication. This in turn, will make us feel unsafe and we naturally become guarded. Perhaps we act out, withhold or shut down. As you know, when this happens, the whole team suffers, as do outcomes.

It is vital that we train our employees to recognize, respond to and help solve even small differences, prejudices, and upsets. Everyone is charged with being an ally. Having open conversation and training is paramount.

Other tips for generating respect and caring:

  • Ask for and carefully consider the opinions of others.
  • Look for the good and name it. Describe what you appreciate.
  • Genuinely listen to others. Let them fully express their thoughts without interjecting your opinion.
  • Consider differences when planning activities for a team.
    • Those on different diets, such as vegan, when planning a meal
    • Religious practices such as prayer at designated times or blessing before a meal
    • Respectful dress for certain occasions
    • Arrangements for visual or hearing impaired or ADA needs

Watch your language.

In creating a culture of trust, we also need to examine our own language and the accepted modes of communicating in all arenas of the workplace.

Condoning the use of foul language is another way to spew disrespect. It is common in many circles to use certain words. Yet, in the workplace, these can be offensive and destroy trust.

I have been particularly sensitive to seemingly harmless comments about women that show disrespect. The #MeToo movement is highlighting the fact that many women have been taken advantage of on every level and we need to be particularly aware of the language used in our halls and meeting rooms, assumptions made about women, and comments or jokes that feature sexuality, personal dress, body parts or mannerisms.

Examine the humor in your workplace.

Research shows that humor and genuine laughter create positive reactions in the body that bring relaxation, increased energy, the ability to connect with others and heightened creativity. All of these effects can be a real boost in creating a culture of trust and accomplishing goals.

Conversely, humor at the expense of a person or group of people can be felt as a painful put-down and shaming. It has the effect of creating distrust, accentuating differences and dividing groups of people (gender, sexuality, age, race, ethnicity, education, etc.)

I did a lot of theatre in college. I love performing and used to tell stories and make a point using different accents, which people mostly find pretty funny. It recently occurred to me that in doing this I was making fun of a group of people. I was getting a laugh at someone’s expense. I pride myself in being pretty respectful and was embarrassed to realize that in telling stories and using accents in this way I was condoning and teaching others to be disrespectful.

Telling jokes is very similar. I began to look at the jokes that were circulating at the office and realized that often the laugh some of us were enjoying was disrespecting a person or group of people. It is very easy to circulate jokes that some find very funny and others find offensive or feel shamed by.

I used myself as an example of unconsciously breeching my own values and unintentionally putting down a person or group of people. I began having open conversations about who was the brunt of our jokes.

We don’t want to shut down humor in the work place. Appropriate levity is important. It can also be a tool to begin important conversations and increase awareness.

The number one criterion for trust is that each person feel safe to show up and to bring their authentic selves into the workplace. People need to feel they have a valued contribution to make. These are not so much measurable facts as they are a gut sense, a feeling of relaxation that comes when our differences are honored, our opinions are valued and our work is appreciated.

Respect and caring are a vital component in creating a culture of trust.

This article was written by Marti Glenn, Ph.D., Ryzio Clinical Director