and Giving Respect
Lessons I Learned
in the Arizona Desert
I used to hang out with a motorcycle
gang. It lasted only an hour, but what an hour.
It all started when I left
the Grand Canyon for a rental-car drive to Las Vegas. Surely my half-full
tank of gas would be sufficient. Even if it wasn't, surely there would
be gas stations aplenty along the way.
I saw wondrous things during
that drive: towering rock formations, delicate flowering cacti, an open
view as far as the eye could see. And as far as I could see, there wasn't
a single gas station anywhere. Pretty soon I didn't give a damn about the
rocks or the cacti or whatever the heck the plural of cactus was or is.
All my attention focused on the fuel gauge and that looming E. And in the
middle of such beautiful country, which inspires soaring hopes and dreams,
all I hoped for was a big reserve tank.
It wasn't. And just when
I thought my luck couldn't get any worse, my car sputtered to a stop within
a stone's throw of ten or so resting bikers, none of whom looked like they
had shaved for a decade. Let me pause this story for some important background
information. Having grown up in Maple Heights, Ohio (town motto: "Just
like Mayberry, only not as wild"), I didn't get much exposure to bikers.
In fact, a "biker" was someone who drove a basket- and bell-equipped Huffy
or Schwinn. So when several of the bikers walked up to my car in the Arizona
desert, I took a deep breath, gripped the steering wheel, squared my shoulders,
and promptly made an idiot out of myself by uttering these words: "Sure
is a nice view."
Instead of laughing in my
face - an impressive show of respectful restraint, if you ask me - the
bikers asked where I was from, welcomed me to Arizona, and offered
to help. One of them raced off to the one gas station that's located in
all of northern Arizona, and I spent the waiting time with nine others
talking and laughing and feeling entirely too clean-shaven. And you know
what? We had a great conversation. It got to the point where I wanted to
hold off on Vegas and head for the nearest tattoo parlor.
Before long, I drove away
with a couple gallons of gas, side-road directions to an open station,
and a powerful lesson in respect. For years, whenever I saw a biker, I'd
make a harsh value judgment. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I didn't have
much respect for them. Now, my respect runs so deep I could be their public-relations
director. I'm still tattoo-free, but the lesson will stick with me forever.
Interestingly, the words
"respect" and "regard" (as in "how I regard you") are derived from Latin
and French words that capture various nuances of the verb "to look." How
appropriate. When I look at you, or when you look at me, what kind of quick
judgments are made? Sure, respect (or the lack thereof) ultimately manifests
itself as an action; it comes across in what we say or do or not do. But
it originates between our ears. And it's in that very personal space that
we have our biggest opportunity to increase the level of respect in our
More on that in just a second.
First, ponder this vision: In a meaningful workplace, everyone holds everyone
in high regard, regardless of what they see (tie, big office, fancy car)
and what they know (several advanced degrees, big title, close friend of
the CEO) about each other. Decisions that affect employees are made with
greater care. People's opinions are valued, and so are their judgment and
know-how. When there's conflict, it's worked out in a way that keeps everyone's
esteem intact. And not insignificantly, the workplace is more pleasant.
If I truly respect you and we happen to cross paths, expect a warm greeting.
Okay, so a workplace is not
quite akin to a barren stretch of Arizona highway. But respect is respect,
wherever you are, and it's always an inside-out proposition. If you want
to get it, you have to give it. And to give it, you first have to pay attention
to those thoughts and judgments and notions that are ever incubating in
your gray matter. If you're sorting people into mental file folders - "important,"
"not so important," "totally worthless," and so forth - you're setting
yourself up to be an accessory to disrespect. Ditch the file folders, and
start thinking and doing anew.
But how? Here are some ideas:
Don't wait for the proverbial
empty gas tank to act on this. Start conversations with some of the people
you've filed away into one of the less desirable folders. Perhaps there's
a functional area or office or section you've tended to hold in low regard.
Or maybe it's an individual. Take the initiative and engage them in dialogue.
Organize a conversation with
colleagues on the topic of respect. What does it mean to each of you? How
do you know when it's thriving? What are the warning signs when respect
is waning? Questions like these will prompt people to share their respect-related
stories from past and present work situations. All of this will give life,
and a remarkable degree of tangibility to an otherwise hazy concept.
As one of your general working
principles, apply the equivalent of "due process" in the workplace. When
negative situations arise and the fingers of blame start pointing, operate
under the assumption that people are innocent until proven otherwise.
Look for opportunities to address
respect in any formal or informal conversations regarding vision, mission,
values, goals, or working principles. Somewhere in there, respect should
be strongly implied or better yet, explicitly stated and (to the degree
Take a visible, vocal stand
against disrespect wherever it rears its ugly head. If you're in a meeting
where people are unfairly disparaging someone's hard work, speak up in
their defense. If another session finds someone strategizing on how to
sneak a new policy by the employees, again, speak up in favor of
openness and honesty. And when you're in a one-on-one situation where someone's
comments or behavior strikes you as disrespectful, again, take a deep breath
and give them a diplomatic piece of your mind.
here to find a career you can be passionate about
by Tom Terez
Tom Terez is
a speaker, consultant, and author of the new book "22 Keys to Creating
a Meaningful Workplace." His website, www.Meaningful
Workplace.com, is filled with strategies, tools, and writings.
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