Have you ever noticed that some people naturally command respect in any situation? It's not only because of their titles, or the power they have to help or hurt the people who work with them, and it's certainly not because they make credible threats or because anyone is afraid of them. It's simply who they are.
How do you become someone others respect almost by instinct? In a recent post on the Psychology Today website, Amy Alkon, author of Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence, decodes the science of respect by identifying three simple-but-not-easy things you can do that will influence others to respect you. Although her example is a reader who feels he lacks the respect of his boss, learning these rules is doubly important if you're an entrepreneur or manager because your livelihood depends on your ability to inspire respect in others.
Here's how to do it:
1. Accept yourself exactly as you are.
"But there's so much about myself that I want to change and improve!" you might object. That's fine, but as Alkon explains, if you start by accepting your current self, making whatever changes you want--to be fitter, better educated, higher earning, or anything else--will come easier. This may go against your instincts if you've spent a lifetime trying to motivate yourself to change by scolding and berating yourself, which is certainly what I've done. And yet I think Alkon is right that the first step toward any major change is self-acceptance.
Without self-acceptance, you can't project self-confidence. The old adage is true: No one will respect you if you don't start by respecting yourself. As Alkon writes, "You simply decide to do this, to accept the whole of you, simply because you exist." Making this one change will deeply alter the way people see you and respond to you. You might be surprised at how much difference it makes.
2. Be as kind to yourself as you would be to a good friend.
First and foremost, you should treat yourself with self-compassion because you deserve it. No one should ever have to put up with the kind of constant criticism many of us subject ourselves to. Beyond that, as Alkon points out, our failures and imperfections are what make us human and connect us to the rest of the human race. "All humans are fallible, and if you are human, wave to the rest of us screwups!" she writes.
If you're a leader who lacks self-compassion, cultivating that quality should be a top priority. Why? Because if you lack compassion for yourself, chances are that, sooner or later, you'll treat the people who work for you without compassion as well. Beyond that, being kind to yourself and forgiving your own imperfections helps you let people know that you are comfortable in your own skin, and that they can depend on you to treat others fairly.
3. Be assertive when appropriate.
This can be a delicate balance. Being assertive means speaking up for what you need or are entitled to, or for your own opinions and ideas, but without anger, stridency, or neediness, all of which signal that you lack confidence.
Once, when I was bartering work with a colleague who is very good at what Alkon calls "healthy self-assertiveness," I fell well behind on fulfilling my side of the bargain. I'd gotten busy and inattentive, but I was also taking our arrangement for granted. Rather than getting angry or complaining or even asking what the problem was, she simply sent me an email listing the work I'd done and asking me to confirm that this was everything I'd completed so far. That simple question alerted me that I'd dropped the ball without making me feel angry, upset, or embarrassed. It was the perfect way to address the problem with no negative effect on the relationship.
If you can do that--assert your rights without anger or blame--you may find you, too, have the quiet authority that makes others instinctively respect you. Treating yourself with self-respect and self-compassion will help you do that by giving you the quiet confidence you need.