As a top executive, I was looking forward to meeting the CEO of a new company we were considering for a multiyear, multimillion-dollar contract. We had agreed to meet for lunch nearby. After circling the garage looking for a parking spot I finally found a space. As I started pulling into it another driver cut me off, grabbing the space for himself.
Having calmed down from my car being blocked and almost sideswiped by the grossly inconsiderate driver, I walked into the restaurant where the CEO and I were to meet. To my shock, I discovered the CEO was the rude driver who had just bagged my parking space for himself.
I proceeded with the lunch, knowing I’d never do business with a person who displayed complete disregard for others. I chose one of his key competitors instead.
Now as an investor, I look forward to entrepreneurs making their funding pitches. Some pitch days are serendipitous. On one particular day as I rushed to catch the elevator, a young entrepreneur pressed the open door button from inside to hold the door open.
We chatted before she gave her formal presentation; she respectfully answered my probing questions. At the pitch, she presented a compelling company story. My mind was set: if the diligence held up and barring any red flags, I would invest in this company with its conscientious and respectful founder.
RESPECT: A DEFINITION
Here’s what respect looks like when you trip over it: You feel you’ve been treated well or fairly; you feel good about the person who treated you courteously; and you run into random acts of kindness.
Among the many definitions of respect the Cambridge Dictionary presents, it’s “to treat something or someone with kindness andcare.”
But if courtesy seems in short supply, it’s not your imagination. According to Christine Porath, the professor, researcher and author on civility, “. . . how you show up and treat people means everything.”
David Brooks, a contributing writer at The Atlantic, writes, “We inhabit a society in which people are no longer trained in how to treat others with kindness and consideration.”
While there isn’t a school where one can learn how to be kind and considerate, an ounce of awareness will produce a pound of goodwill. Fortunately, there are six good reasons for respect to be top of mind and in your good behavior bank:
When I started my career as a marketer in New York City, I had a dreadful boss. He screamed and berated staff in public. Neither I nor my co-workers could stand him. We also didn’t trust him; they followed after I walked out the door for the last time.
Think about it: If you don’t feel valued, understood or respected, you won’t trust those who treat you as if you don’t matter.
A public berating, especially at work, destroys trust because it tramples on a person’s dignity and sense of self-worth. Individual and team member morale sinks. To cope, you become turtle-like by retreating into your shell, unable to bring your best self and ideas to work.
Compare this to a trusting environment where people feel safe to speak up without fear of retribution. In the workplace trust leads to increased engagement, productivity, open communication, effective collaboration and commitment to the organization. Think of trust like water: You need it to survive and to thrive.
When I was hiring for my organization, or now when evaluating an entrepreneurial venture for investment, I look at how the founder displays respect.
One of the key reasons an innovative clean energy sector company I invested in had an outstanding exit was because the CEO fostered and nurtured a culture of respect. He approached all stakeholders—investors, board members, employees, customers, and prospective buyers—with humility. He modeled this behavior to staff and specifically hired employees who demonstrated the same ethos.
When it came time to sell the business, he looked for the highest value exit and required the acquiring organization to embrace his business ethos. A couple of years on, the CEO has continued to model the respectful behavior and culture he cultivated when he first founded the company.
Here’s how to develop friendly trusting conversations and relationships with almost everyone: Be open-minded to viewpoints that are different from yours. Respond thoughtfully to people you disagree with, showing you’ve considered the other person’s opinion. Even if you need to exercise self-control and patience, you’ll open a window to effective, open and honest dialogue without becoming defensive.
I’ve been on multiple boards of directors for private companies and non-profit organizations. Most of the time people agree. Sometimes, though, opinions diverge and the discussion gets heated. In any type of disagreement make sure you critique the viewpoint, not the person. This respectful approach helps to keep the conflict from escalating, the conversation is constructive and ultimately leads to a compromise.
A bully can ruin the day of the most resilient person. It’s hard not to take that kind of stress home with you. An organization with zero tolerance for any type of bullying behavior is a healthy place to work. You are your best at work, enjoy your colleagues, engage in creative thinking, and go home at the end of the day feeling accomplished.
While working on both coasts, I saw many instances where an executive position was not offered, not because of a candidate’s competence but because of the candidate’s arrogance and disrespect toward support staff and colleagues they would be interacting with if hired. Conversely, I’ve seen certain job requirements waived so that a notably respectful and courteous individual could be hired.
RESPECT PAYS DIVIDENDS
You’ve seen people on standby for a flight, pleading their case to an agent at the ticket counter near the gate. I’ve watched seats be released to the most respectful, polite travelers rather than passengers with the highest mileage points. One incident stands out: On my way to Europe, several university students were so disruptive, rude and inconsiderate to the gate agents they were barred from boarding, even though there were seats on the airplane.
I had the privilege to work for an outstanding manager in Silicon Valley who treated his staff, colleagues and superiors in a way that made each person feel they counted. He had a stellar reputation as a leader who cared. While his standards were exacting, he coached me to do my best work. There was always a line of people wanting to work for him or to collaborate with him.
People will remember how you treat them. Remember what you learned in kindergarten: play nice, and be generous. It costs nothing to make respect integral to who you are and to model good behavior. Ensure you pay respect so much it becomes second nature, like a good habit. You’ll notice that when you regularly treat others—and yourself—with thoughtfulness and consideration, you and those around you will feel uplifted. Good feelings tend to be contagious. Help spread them wherever you go.
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