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A Simple Matter of Respect: How to get it and give it

By Kathleen Quinn Votaw

It starts when you’re a kid. You fall down, scrape your knee and cry—and some well-meaning adult says, “That didn’t hurt.” It continues as you grow older and lose the championship game…or your first love…or a dream job…and what sustenance do you get to recover your self-esteem? Probably a comment like, “You’ll get over it.” Do you remember how that felt?

What is it that makes so many people forget the Golden Rule, “treat others as you’d like to be treated;” or better, the Platinum Rule, “treat others the way they want to be treated”? Being courteous, kind, polite, and allowing people to maintain their dignity stems from respect. Respect is often in short supply, in families and in workplaces. If your company’s foundation is built on earning and paying respect, you’ve gained a powerful business advantage.

Building a respectful business

Southwest Airlines’ founder Herbert Kelleher used to say that you have to treat your employees right, like they were customers, and then they’ll treat your customers right. He said it was Southwest’s powerful competitive weapon. You can’t argue with that; respect is contagious and Southwest proved it.

I would take it further and say it’s also true that if you are genuinely respectful, you wouldn’t treat your employees any differently than you would your customers or your suppliers or the man on the street. Respectfulness, like other aspects of a person’s character, has to be genuine or it’s hypocrisy.  You can’t turn respect on and off depending on whom you’re talking to. We can all see around that.

So the first step in building a respectful environment is treating everyone in the same confirming way, both inside and outside your business. That way you earn respect (by being kind and not being hypocritical) and the people around you will tend to do the same.

It’s a small world—and how you treat employees and everyone else you come in contact with gets out into the marketplace. Enough said.

Returning calls and e-mails and other ways to show respect

Frequent, honest communication is a foundation for building respect and trust in any organization. Responding quickly to people shows that you are listening and that you care. There are many other ways to ensure that you have a respectful environment, and they work together to create a workplace that goes a long way toward making you an employer of choice:

Pay a fair wage, and be consistent throughout your business.

  • Set expectations so employees know what they need to do to succeed; and train them so they have the opportunity to succeed.
  • Encourage employees to express their ideas and opinions, and then listen and respond.
  • Require managers to take the time to understand what their people want in addition to wages, and know what’s going on in their lives.
  • Empower individuals and don’t micromanage.
  • Provide opportunities for employees to see the results of their work.
  • Recognize and reward individual achievements and behaviors and celebrate often.
  • Support your community and engage employees in the activities.
  • Deal with problems right away; don’t ever let them fester.

 Whatever steps you take to build a respectful environment, be sure you do so out of genuine interest and concern for your employees. They’ll know the difference, just as you knew as a child that your bleeding knee hurt and you never quite got over losing that championship game.

Kathleen Quinn Votaw is founder and CEO of TalenTrust, a unique recruitment firm that helps companies find exceptional talent to accelerate their growth. TalenTrust LLC is located in Golden, CO. Kathleen  recently completed a two-year term as president of the Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), Denver. Reach Kathleen at or 303-838-3334 x5.

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