I recently wrote about my three core values: respect, teamwork and innovation. The reason that respect is first on my list is because without it, the other two are impossible.
Without a culture of mutual respect for all, people will not come together as a team. In the absence of respect for each other’s work, innovation and change can make even the most secure person feel defensive and unnecessarily attached to the current way of doing things.
Yet respect is not a given. When I first arrived at Johns Hopkins Medicine, I’d sometimes overhear people in my department speaking heatedly to each other. I’d hear rumblings of generally disrespectful attitudes. I knew then that I had to help instill a deeper culture of respect among our team, and I began to openly discuss my three core values at meetings, focusing especially on respect and collegiality.
A gradual but very real change for the better took place. But maintaining that environment requires constant care. Even today, if a colleague were to come to me and say “People don’t value what I do,” I’d need them to know that they have my compassion, but I would gently remind them that I can’t change people’s perceptions of them, even if I want to.
That’s because when it comes to respect, we have to earn it for ourselves.
The million dollar question, then, is how exactly to do it. These are some of the principles I’ve followed in my career that I hope you may find helpful.
Give to receive
The most immediate step that anyone can take to earn respect is to sincerely give it. People will tend to mirror your willingness to consider other points of view and to do so with an open mind.
If you are hoping that other people will spontaneously recognize your contributions and perspective, you may be waiting a long time, which can be frustrating. Acting on that frustration, however, will make it harder for you to gain trust and respect.
Speak up (at the right time)
Choosing the right time to express a concern or opinion can be challenging, because all of us have busy schedules. But developing a good sense of timing can make the difference in whether or not your thoughts are heard.
The worst thing you can do is become apathetic and not speak up. This will have the opposite effect of earning respect.
Ask the right questions
I have this message written on the white board in my office. When meeting with one of my team members, I often look at it to guide me.
This has to do with cutting to the core of a problem and identifying what has to happen to progress to the next steps.
You’ll know you’re asking the right question if it spurs collaboration and ingenuity toward your given aim. You’ll know you’ve asked the wrong one if it leads to defensiveness or blame.
Listen closely, to everyone
This one is very important. Truly listen to the observations and opinions of others and let them penetrate. Never talk down to people. Everyone has a role to play. And innovations can come from people at every level and every position.
Don’t take things personally
If you offer your opinion and it is not heard or appreciated, it can be frustrating. I’ve certainly experienced that myself. But you can rest knowing that you’ve expressed your ideas. Your goal in sharing isn’t necessarily to have people follow your way of thinking. It’s to speak truthfully and tactfully, with the constant goal of bettering the organization and the lives of the people you serve, which brings us to our last point.
Remember the big picture
In your every action, think of the overall good. Cultivate a reputation as someone who works to improve the organization and your colleagues’ lives, as opposed to someone with a personal agenda. This approach will help you earn the appreciation of the people you report to, as well as the admiration of your peers. Once you have gained this esteem, people are going to have a hard time ignoring you.