Build Respect in Organizations, Not Families, Part 2

I wrote about treating each other with respect in Organizations Are Not Families, Part 1.

In these respect posts, I’ll address possible ways we can treat each other with respect. These are not the only ways. You might have better ideas than I do. Please do comment if you’ve seen alternatives that work better.

I started to write before I realized I was echoing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Do check that out if you are not familiar with the hierarchy of needs.

People have to feel physically safe enough to work. That’s why the first piece is about respect for physical safety.

Respect for physical safety:

Here are some ways of treating people with respect that lead to a physical safety in the workplace:

  • Everyone keeps their hands to themselves. I have certainly touched people on the shoulder. Sometimes, on the arm. When people are in mourning (yes, I encountered death in the workplace), then I hug them. But I normally keep my hands to myself. My male colleagues do, also.
  • Everyone keeps their clothes on. The one exception to this rule is back one summer in the 80s where we had rolling brownouts of electricity. To conserve, the only cool room was the machine room. Management wanted us to all come to work, and people wore clothes that were possible to be comfortable in 80-degree weather. The problem with short-shorts (either gender) and tank tops is that they don’t leave much to the imagination. There are some things I cannot unsee. (Argh!)

I’m not sure why I even needed to say these two things, but some famous people don’t seem to understand this.

What do you do at conferences and other social-professional situations? When I participate in conferences, I decide on a person-by-person basis. I mostly shake hands. Sometimes I hug people. It depends on how well I know them and how my vertigo is that day. I can almost always maintain my balance to shake. Sometimes, when I hug, I fall over. Not what I want, especially in a professional situation.

You get to choose. Watch for cues. If you’re not sure, offer your hand to shake. No one has to hug you.

When people don’t respect you, they invade your personal space.

I was in a meeting years ago when my manager didn’t support me in terms of my physical or psychological safety. When it occurred, I felt irritated and mildly physically unsafe. I didn’t realize at the time that it was bullying and sexual harassment because I am a short woman.

I’m 5 feet tall on a good day. I hate it when people pat me on the head. (I didn’t like it as a child, either.) I have told those people that it was demeaning for them to pat me on the head.

In one meeting, one man continued to do so after I asked him several times to stop. He said, “I’m having too much fun.” I then asked him to sit down next to me for the next part of the meeting. He grinned at everyone and said, “I knew she liked it.”

I patted him on the head every two minutes for 15 seconds for the next ten minutes (yes, I timed it) until he finally stood up and moved to another seat. I was surprised he lasted that long.

I followed him and sat next to him and patted him on the head again. He finally turned to me and asked me what I wanted so I would stop. I said, “An apology.”

I am older now. I hope I would provide more and better feedback, and in this case, public feedback. (I didn’t put my boss on the spot then because he did not have the tools to manage his feelings or the situation.) I know enough to do so now. I was angry enough then to show him how it felt.

Insufficient physical and psychological safety allows bullies to thrive. I’m not easily bullied for many things, and this is one. The problem with bullying is that the bully feels powerful and doesn’t respect the person being bullied. As adults, we have more capability to manage ourselves than children might. We have options. And, our managers owe us support, given their power in the hierarchy.

Respect for psychological safety:

Here are some ideas that lead to psychological safety:

  • Don’t bring up personal issues unless the person with the least power brings it up first. As a manager, I have helped people manage their time so they could bring a loved one to chemo, go to court for child custody purposes, and more. See Management Myth #4: I Don’t Need One-on-Ones for more details. And, it’s also not my role as a manager to pry into other people’s personal lives.
  • Bring up potentially embarrassing issues privately. This is why I like one-on-ones so much. I’ve provided reinforcing feedback and change-focused feedback in one-on-ones. Sometimes, people like to know you appreciate them and they don’t want you to make a big deal of it.  And, if you do have change-focused feedback, people need to know they can discuss it with you as freely as they can.
  • Decriminalize making mistakes. Blame, along with bullying, is a no-win situation and reduces psychological safety. People make mistakes. Instead of blaming people for mistakes, we can use the opportunity to mistake-proof a process, such as automating it. Or, removing the root password from managers. Or other ideas that make it safe for people to experiment and catch their problems.

When we create physically and psychologically safe workplaces, people can discuss complex and difficult problems and develop solutions.

When we create unsafe workplaces, we shove the problems down, preventing people from developing great products. That’s when people quit (at best) or take out their anger in other ways at worst.

The next stage of Maslow’s hierarchy is social belonging. I’m going to reframe that as respect for people as human beings, in the next post.

3 Replies to “Build Respect in Organizations, Not Families, Part 2”

  1. This is developing into an excellent series. While more modern models get more attention from the academic community, Maslow will always be relevant for practitioners.

    Re: vertigo, I threw a TIA (mini-stroke, for you under-40’s) about 6 years ago and though I quickly recovered, I still carry a collapsible hiking pole for days when I’m in danger of losing the vertical. I haven’t taken anyone with me yet when tipping over, but it’s good to know it’s not just me.

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