Why it's important to treat people with respect at work

Updated 22 March 2023

Treating people with respect is an integral part of any well-functioning workplace. When respect is mutual and part of the company culture, it can encourage transparency, responsibility, motivation and staff happiness. Whether you're a manager in charge of encouraging a healthy company culture or a professional who values respect, learning about why it matters and how to promote it can be very useful. In this article, we explain what respect means, why it's important to treat people with respect and some of the ways that you can show this in the workplace.

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What is respect?

Almost everyone wants to receive respect from others, but the number of people who are willing to show respect is often lower. This is because respect is primarily about mutuality and recognition. This means recognition of the fact that everyone is entitled to a certain amount of respect. It's also about recognising your own ability to make mistakes and misjudgements, and how these can cause you to form inaccurate opinions of others. If you show respect to people regardless of your opinion, then you decrease the chances of inadvertently judging them based on an unfair opinion.

In practice, this means treating other people the same way you want them to treat you. This requires you to recognise the fact that respect is mutual. In terms of behaviours, respect can be things like allowing someone to speak uninterrupted, being attentive while they speak, acknowledging their efforts, using appropriate language when speaking to them and respecting their wishes whenever possible. You can also show respect to someone in their absence. This could be something like only speaking about them in an appropriate manner and refusing to discuss personal issues that they'd like to keep private.

Related: Showing respect in the workplace: a step-by-step guide

Why it's important to treat people with respect

It's important to treat people with respect because this is one of the primary foundations of a healthy working environment. There are many reasons why you'd want to show respect in the workplace, some of which are outlined below:

You're more likely to receive respect

In most cases, other people are only going to be willing to show you respect if you show it to them. This is quite easy and straightforward when respect is the default way that people treat each other in your work environment. It can become more challenging when not everybody does so, but you can help address this by demonstrating respect yourself.

This can help persuade others that using a respectful approach is better and help contribute to improving the working environment. If you can be the person who shows respect first, you've taken an active step towards developing a more respectful environment and are more likely to receive respect yourself.

Everyone's likely to be happier

Feeling respected is important for your happiness, and if you can show respect to others and encourage it in the workplace then everyone is likely to feel happier as a result. This is because receiving respect can help someone feel valued by others. Moreover, a happier person is also more likely to show respect to other people.

This is especially important if you're a manager or occupy some other leadership position because your opinion of your team is very important. Others may look to you for guidance and respect your opinions, and if you can show people respect even when you're their manager it can have an even greater effect than if you were their peer.

Related: What is workplace culture, and what are its characteristics?

Greater motivation and productivity

If you and others feel respected and show mutual respect, then you're likely to be happier and more motivated. This can be beneficial for your productivity. For instance, most working environments require some kind of collaborative effort to produce results. You and others are typically more likely to collaborate with each other if there's mutual respect. It's also helpful if you're happy and motivated, as this can increase the likelihood that you'd put in the extra effort to collaborate. With greater collaboration, you can expect greater productivity. This increases workplace output and can lead to favourable performance reviews.

Related: How To Be Professional at Work

More transparency

Showing honesty is also a way of demonstrating respect. When you and others are honest with each other, it can increase the overall transparency in the workplace. Conversely, if a particular individual doesn't feel respected, they may not feel incentivised to be honest. A respectful workplace culture encourages and rewards honesty. For example, if someone makes a mistake that impacts work, they can either be transparent and admit it was them or try to conceal it. If they don't feel respected, they may worry about how colleagues would react if they found out.

In this case, they may attempt to conceal it and someone else might unfairly receive the blame. Conversely, in a respectful working environment, this individual would know that their colleagues would appreciate their honesty and show them respect regardless of the mistake. They're therefore more likely to be transparent and admit it. This can be particularly important in the working relationships between managers and those they manage.

It encourages fairness

Everyone deserves to receive fair treatment, and mutual respect in the workplace can contribute to this. It's important to remember that groups of people can often adopt each other's behaviours, which can lead to unfair treatment for certain individuals. For example, a manager might have had disagreements with a particular individual. If they allow their personal bias to dictate their behaviour, they may show less respect to this individual than others on the team. The rest of the team might notice this and start to show less respect too, and new members of the team might also adopt this behaviour.

This would be unfair, as the manager has based their opinion solely on a personal disagreement. Moreover, managers are important individuals who lead by example. If they show respect consistently and fairly, then others are more likely to do the same.

Related: 13 signs you might get fired (and how to avoid it)

How to show respect to others

Respect is often something that other people can see or hear clearly, so it's important to demonstrate it openly. This can help you encourage others to do the same and develop a healthy workplace culture. Some ways that you can demonstrate respect are available below:

1. Listen to others

An important aspect of respecting others is respecting their opinions and what they want to say. When someone else is speaking, try to listen attentively to what they're saying and appreciate that they've probably got something to contribute. It's also important to resist the urge to interrupt too frequently, although if you wish to interject it's possible to do so politely.

Related: How to improve your active listening skills

2. Acknowledge people

Acknowledging other people in various scenarios is important for ensuring that they feel respected. This could be something simple like greeting them when you enter the room, even if you're going there to see someone else. When they speak to you, look at them when do they so. If you're speaking to multiple individuals simultaneously, try to direct your attention to each of them in turn so that you're not appearing to focus on certain people.

3. Use polite language

When you're speaking with someone, try to use language that's polite and appropriate. You can adopt a more relaxed and informal approach with people you know better, but in most workplace interactions it's typically best to be polite. This could be something like thanking others, saying please and refraining from using bad language. It's also important to understand your workplace culture. For instance, it may be appropriate in some workplaces to refer to managers by their last names, whereas elsewhere it can be more casual. Try to understand what's appropriate in your workplace and adapt to it.

Related: Important workplace social skills

4. Offer criticism constructively

Everyone makes mistakes at work and there are always opportunities for improvement. It's important that you and others work together to identify mistakes and adopt better practices. It's also important that you try to be respectful when correcting someone else's mistake. It's quite natural for people to dislike receiving criticism, so doing it positively and constructively increases the chances that they feel respected regardless. For instance, instead of simply pointing out a mistake, offer to help the other person overcome it.

It's often also important to be careful when offering your opinion. Unless you're a manager or in a similar position of responsibility, it can be a good idea to first ask someone if they'd like to hear your input. This shows that you respect their wishes and can even make them more willing to listen.

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