Fostering a culture of mutual respect in the workplace is successful when everyone from management to entry-level employees is committed to that goal. Respectful behavior may be intuitive to some in the office, but most people can benefit from a reminder of how to act on their best and most respectful instincts. As you search for work or start a new job, you can set an example as someone who tries to treat others with respect, and convey that feeling in an interview and your first interactions with your new coworkers. In this article, we will discuss some practices and tips on treating people with respect and dignity.
What do respect and dignity in the workplace look like?
Respect is a feeling of admiration and esteem for others, and dignity is the belief that all humans have inherent worth and deserve basic rights and equitable treatment. When you seek to apply those two concepts together in the workplace, you may give deference to experienced and knowledgeable coworkers and appreciate and value their contributions to the team. You’ll seek to foster collaborative relationships with others that bring positivity and productivity to the office, and help each member of the team fulfill their part of the company’s mission.
How to treat others with dignity and respect
You are likely to spend a good portion of your week interacting with coworkers. Here are some tips that can inform your behavior choices as you try to treat others respectfully.
- Acknowledge each person’s basic dignity.
- Have empathy for every person’s life situation.
- Listen to and encourage each other’s opinions and input.
- Validate other people’s contributions.
- Avoid gossip, teasing and other unprofessional behavior.
- Emulate the actions of someone you consider respectful.
- Obey the policies and procedures of your employer.
1. Acknowledge each person’s basic dignity
The concept of human dignity says that people should be inherently valued and regardless of any status or situation. If you can see other people with this global sense of worth, it may help influence your attitude to be positive from the start.
2. Have empathy for every person’s life situation
Acknowledging dignity is the first step in having empathy for others. Empathy is your capacity to understand another by being able to imagine yourself in their situation. It enables you to feel their joy or their sorrow and sincerely celebrate or offer help and support. Your coworkers may share many details of their personal lives, or they might prefer to keep them more private. However, even if you do not know the details of their homes, families and core values, you can still have empathy and treat them like you understand their difficulties and successes.
To practice empathy, consider these tips:
Think about your coworkers’ recent behavior.
Ask yourself if they seem worried, stressed or have been acting differently than usual.
Try to determine if you have done anything to contribute to their concerns.
Ask if they want to talk, and if they agree, practice good listening skills, including eye contact, not interrupting with advice or stories of your own and not looking at your phone or computer as they are speaking.
Apologize if you have caused a problem, and validate their feelings.
3. Listen to and encourage each other’s opinions and input
In work situations like brainstorming at the start of a project or mid-project evaluation meetings, people are more likely to feel respected if the other team members listen to their opinions and acknowledge their values.
Offices are made up of people with all kinds of personalities, and some are less likely to vocalize their opinions in a large group setting. Others might dominate a meeting with lots of ideas, and it is worthwhile to recognize that all kinds of approaches have value.
Sometimes it helps to allow people to explain how they like to work so you do not make assumptions. If a coworker is frequently silent in meetings while everyone else speaks up, you may offer that person a chance to give their input later in a private conversation or through email.
Without asking first, you may dismiss them as being uninterested when they might just be shy or quieter in a group setting. Respect gives people room to contribute in ways they feel most comfortable.
4. Validate other people’s contributions
Validation shows people their feelings are understandable. Much of what people contribute to their work is motivated by their professional experience and their opinions on how things ought to be done, developed over the course of their careers. Validation in person or writing helps people feel that their philosophies and approaches are valuable and contribute to the success of the project.
Specific compliments and acknowledgments typically have more power than something vague. Instead of sending an email that says, “Good work in the meeting today!” you may consider stopping by someone’s office and saying something like, “The outline you presented in our meeting today helped me see some aspects of the project more clearly. You are very talented at helping us all be more organized. Thank you for that contribution.”
In these examples, you have validated the time someone put into their work and you have pointed out a talent, both of which can make someone feel important and useful.
5. Avoid gossip, teasing and other unprofessional behavior
To encourage cooperation and respect among coworkers, it is best to avoid gossip of any kind, even if it may seem harmless to you. As discussed earlier, acknowledging dignity and treating others with empathy means you avoid assigning motives to people’s lives. You show respect by not discussing others’ situations or behaviors outside acceptable channels like with a manager or human resources.
Similarly, too much teasing, joking or nicknames may not be comfortable for everyone. Even if you feel like it is harmless fun, it is best to respect others’ boundaries. The concept of professionalism encourages coworkers to avoid becoming overly-familiar with others’ personal lives so they can maintain a professional separation, if that is their preference.
10 qualities of professional people:
6. Emulate the actions of someone you consider respectful
Over the course of your career, you are likely to have mentors or coworkers whose behavior you admire. As you think back to those good examples, you might write down the instances or actions where you saw they demonstrated respect for others.
If you still have a relationship with the person, you could ask them how they developed that characteristic or what they have learned about showing respect at work. You will likely respect your mentor very much, and those feelings can naturally show you how to treat others you will work with.
Related: How to Find a Mentor
7. Obey the policies and procedures of your employer
A commitment to being an honest and ethical person who follows rules and policies with exactness shows you respect the organization as a whole. It sets a good example for anyone who works with you. You demonstrate that respect by keeping confidentiality agreements, working productively during the hours you are being paid, following the dress code, using company resources like keys, vehicles, computers and credit cards for work-related tasks only and by strictly observing any safety and legal requirements in your industry.
Many of these behaviors keep other employees safe and secure in their jobs, and you can avoid putting others in a compromising position. Your company may encourage feedback about policies, and when you have shown yourself to be trustworthy and respectful, you may be able to provide input that helps define the company culture.