Respecting Those You Don’t Respect

Angry, Frustrated WomanI hope the title of this had you pause for consideration. I’ve identified the verb Respect as a choice, not a feeling. This important distinction can help when you are faced with a common workplace concern: How do I work with someone I don’t respect?

Typically, we disrespect people because they have not met our expectations or because we are angry and fearful about some behaviour which seems to endanger us or the business. We might lose respect after a miscommunication which we assume is manipulative or dishonest in some way. At other times we have trouble respecting those who are promoted over us, or those who get the work that we feel we are best qualified for. And frankly, we disrespect people we don’t like!

 Here, some food for thought, if you are facing the dilemma of working with someone you don’t respect:

  1. You can decide how to best to deal with the situation if you more accurately identify your feelings. Pay attention to what emotions arise when you work with this person. Here are some feelings we have when our needs are not being met:  angry, annoyed, disappointed, discouraged, frustrated, irritated, sad, impatient and uncomfortable.  If this person embarrasses you or disagrees with you publicly, you may be feeling humiliation or shame as well. These are some of the most powerful emotions we have, and they are very distressful in the workplace. Acknowledge the hurt or anger that you are holding, and seek kindness from others or by practicing self-compassion.
  2. Spend more time with them. This is counter-intuitive if you don’t really like someone. But respect and trust are inter-related, and we trust those whom we know best. Trust is built on commonality and reliability, which are established over time. You may not have invested enough time in the relationship yet to establish trust. More exposure to this person, especially outside of regular meetings, could reveal something positive about them. Certainly people act different away from the immediate stress of the job. You can learn many facets of a person over coffee or travelling together to a meeting.
  3. Participate in 360 degree assessments. This is a way for you to give constructive feedback anonymously. Many people and organizations take the reports seriously, and often people get information about themselves that they didn’t know. If you include comments, suggest a way that this person might gain your respect.
  4. Watch how others react to them. It’s true that a person you disrespect may be respected by others. Get curious and pay attention to interactions at meetings and informally, to see how others respond to this person. You may learn a way of approaching them differently – and get better results. If there is someone you trust on your team, who seems unbothered by the person you struggle with, you can ask them what it is that they respect most about that person. You might be surprised to find that what bothers you (impatience, for example) could be reframed by someone else as “gets things done.”
  5. Rise above current circumstances and practice seeing them as a whole person – a human being apart from their job. Separate “liking” from “respecting”. Choose to treat them with all the respect and dignity you would give any person at work. Don’t hold them captive to past negative incidents or their history. Forgiveness is important in the workplace, where memories seem to last forever.

Finally, if there is something truly criminal or toxic that they are part of, decide if you need to tell someone in authority, confront them, or leave the workplace. Do this person’s behaviours seem the cultural norms of the organization? Perhaps the very behaviours you abhor are integral to their work and what is rewarded. Look around to see if you can work for another leader who you respect. If you don’t see any candidates, you might be in the wrong workplace.

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