I was chatting to a client recently and they were thrilled to learn how they could give key feedback to a staff member so that they could become successful in their job role. I mentioned that it was important to respect the individual throughout the conversation and they replied: ‘And demand respect back!’
My heart sank. They were stating a belief that many hold in thinking that respect can be demanded, yet we all know from our own experiences of working with senior people in organisations that respect cannot be compelled. An expectation of respect can quickly lead to resentment and a passive-aggressive response, manifested in staff smiling and saying the right thing while quietly doing the opposite.
Respect can only be earned. But how do we earn it, particularly from the worst-performing, most cynical and negative people in our teams?
Actually the answer is very easy! Let me explain how.
The first step to gain respect for ourselves is to give it to others. Think on it. The worst-performing individual in your team has not received any genuine respect for years. This would have contributed to the reason they are currently so negative and cynical. So when you do start to give genuine respect it can be like pouring water onto a desert; it can transform.
At this point I can hear you cry out ‘But how do you genuinely respect someone who is nothing but an ongoing pain to yourself and your team?’
The answer is seek it out. I promise you there will be something. It might not be connected to work. It could be their genuine commitment to their children, their taste in shoes, their passion for football or knitting. Whatever you hit on, it needs to be something you genuinely respect about them and then simply recall it every time to you speak to them. This will naturally enable you to adopt the right body language and tone of voice in conversations.
Also, at a fundamental, core level, you can respect every person for being who they are – a human being. Yes, at the moment they are displaying negative attitudes and behaviours that are extremely irritating. Yet actually, but for the grace of God, universe, fate and circumstances, go both you and I. I am sure you can remember times when you acted in a way you now regret. There are certainly some that still make me cringe. We are fortunate that we recognised the situation and learned from the experience. Sadly, for whatever reason, they did not. Appreciating our shared humanity in this way can make it a lot easier to also respect them for doing their best, even if their best is currently failing them.
The third way of showing respect for an individual is to recognise that the responsibility for any decisions about whether they want to change or not is theirs and theirs alone. As a manager you have the right (duty) to spell out in detail the changes that are needed, and consequences of those not being made. But you also need to totally respect their decision about whether to change or not, even if that decision appears completely foolish in your eyes. Simply state: ‘Of course what you now do is entirely your choice’. You might encourage them to think carefully: ‘Are you sure? You do understand the consequences?’ but finally demonstrate your respect by saying ‘If that is your decision, then I respect it’.
Respect is something that all of us desire. Experiment. Give it, genuinely, to your worst-performing employees and see what happens. You could be surprised at the results that such a simple approach can achieve.