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6 Infallible Ways to Earn Respect

There's no management tool more important than respect. Here's how to make sure you're getting it.
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Business may be all about money, but the currency that's traded inside every organization is respect.

If you command respect, people listen when you talk and take action when asked. If you don't command respect, well, everyone's just laughing behind your back.

Contrary to popular belief, a fancy job title never commands respect. In fact, there are six, and only six, ways to earn respect:

1. Be Authentic

People will not respect you when they know you're pretending to be somebody or something you're not. Human beings have a natural ability to detect fakery and see fakers as untrustworthy, insecure, and ultimately insignificant. On the other hand, humans are always drawn to individuals who truly are what they seem to be. Being yourself (and at your best) is therefore the foundation for earning respect.

2. Be Curious

If you're truly curious about other people, you listen, truly listen, to what they have to say. When people realize that they're really being heard, they'll tell you what's really important (to them) about their jobs, their dreams, their fears, their goals. That knowledge not only gives you perspective on how to do your job better but also helps you see how you can best help others.

3. Be Discreet

Workplaces are hotbeds of petty gossip, not just about work but also people's personal lives. Though it's easy to use gossip to work office politics, nobody respects somebody who can't keep a secret. When people realize you can safely be told anything in confidence, you'll become the one person everyone seeks out when they really need some perspective and advice.

4. Be Unique

People respect expertise, especially when it's hard to find. Pick a segment of your business or industry that's relevant and essential. Make it your avocation and hobby to learn everything you can about that subject matter. Learn more on a daily basis; make it part of your routine. When you become the resident expert, everyone will depend upon you when they need solid inputs and good decisions.

5. Be Helpful

People respect contributors, disrespect layabouts, and despise narcissists. Being a contributor means making it your primary goal to help others to achieve their goals. It means making every job and project a form of service--to customers, to co-workers, to employees, and to bosses. Remember: The degree to which you can help others is always the degree to which you're valued and respected.

6. Set Boundaries

Nobody respects a pushover, so earning respect also means setting limits. If you're given an impossible task, explain up front what can be accomplished and commit to accomplish that and no more. If someone becomes dependent upon your constant help and reassurance, wean them away by defining exactly how much you're capable of giving. The stronger your boundaries, the more respect you'll earn.

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IMAGE: Getty
Last updated: Oct 22, 2012

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James was recently named a "Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Master" by Forbes, and his blog has won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. His writing has appeared in publications as diverse as Wired, Brandweek, and Men's Health, and he is the author of numerous books, including The Tao of Programming, Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite, and, most recently, Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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