Many businesses talk about respect: "We treat our clients with the utmost respect..." "...by fostering at atmosphere of mutual respect..." and so on and so on. But if every person in every company actually treated everyone else with respect, no one would need to say it, would they?

Respect is a key element in creating a good workplace culture, yet when you ask people what it means, many people find it difficult to define (except through behaviors).

Your business culture is a natural outgrowth of the relationships between the people who work for your company, combined with your company policies and values (also relationship-based). For example, do your managers have an open-door policy for employee concerns? That shows you respect them enough to listen. Is one of your company values integrity? That shows you respect them enough to honor their individuality. Do your executives regularly interact with those in the trenches? That shows you respect what they do.

There is no shortage of articles out there telling you how to earn respect, but to me that seems a bit backwards. If you want to be respected, you need to give respect, particularly in these 3 key areas.

1. Respect their time.

Are you one of those chronically late people? Do you cancel appointments at the last minute? This tells people that you believe your time is more valuable than theirs--especially in a business setting. (Though this is true in your personal life as well.)

I was at a "global summit" in Atlanta a few months ago, and it was quite possibly the most disorganized event I've ever attended. The complete lack of organization meant that the initial sessions started nearly two hours late each morning... and I am NOT a morning person; I would've slept in. The final event was a yacht party and we were told the boat was leaving at 11am. I didn't have the address, so I was supposed to follow the event organizer to the marina. At 11 am, my colleague and I were sitting outside the hotel waiting for her to show up. The event organizer didn't actually leave the hotel until 1pm, and when we expressed concern for all the people at the marina already, her flippant response was: "Don't worry; they won't leave without me!" (Meanwhile, everyone who arrived at the marina on time was grumpy, hungry, and thirsty, since the organizer was the one bringing the food and drinks!)

As for last-minute cancellations, if you have an appointment with someone, they've set aside that time for you. They may have refused other appointments or arranged their schedule to accommodate you; in some situations, your cancellation costs them money.

So, how do you honor other people's time? Get organized and plan ahead.

2. Respect their feelings and opinions.

You don't have to agree. You may never agree. But you do have to accept that they have the right to their feelings and opinions--even if you believe their feelings are unfounded and their opinions are stupid. (You know what they say about opinions, right?)

Monitor your expectations; other people may differ in their understanding of a conversation or agreement. Hone your communication skills, take responsibility for your feelings and opinions, and speak in "I" statements. For example, "I understand you feel upset about _______. I feel frustrated because I _______."

How do you respect people's opinions when you think they stink? Recognize and take responsibility for your own personal biases.

3. Respect them as human beings.

Everyone has the right to be treated as with kindness, compassion, and dignity. (I know some people disagree with this sentiment, but if you want to create a collaborative corporate culture, you need to get on board with this one.)

As a child you may have been taught to respect certain groups of people simply because of their age, occupation, or status (i.e. "respect your elders/ teachers/ elected officials"). This perpetuates the idea that those people have somehow earned your respect. However, respect and trust are not the same. You can respect someone as a person without trusting or even liking them. You don't have to defer to them or allow them to mistreat you--in fact, if you do that, you are putting them above yourself (self-respect is all about boundaries).

How do you respect everyone equally? Throw out the notion that respect must be earned and start giving it away for free; just make sure you respect yourself too.

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