New Year, New Respect

As the New Year emerges, and we re-join our work teams to apply our renewed vigour to drive organisational productivity, one key element will undoubtedly support us to operate as the most efficient collective – we should reconsider the meaning of ‘respect’.


In my work with all manner of teams and groups in the workplace, this word keeps coming up. Mostly it is complained about as ‘a lack of’ and used in the third person, e.g. they don’t respect me/him, they need to show a little more respect, he is so disrespectful, etc. We’ve all heard it, and there’s generally no mistaking that more demonstration and presence of this ‘respect’ in our work relations would lead to more satisfying role interactions and more real ticks in our action boxes.


But what does respect really mean? Well, it is a noun and a verb, with derivatives often as adjectives. When you do it, as a verb (to respect), you give the noun (respect) and generate the feeling of the adjective (in a respectful way). The word respect is derived from the Latin re (again), and spectare (to look at), so meaning ‘look again’. Essentially, the action of respecting is to look again at people, i.e. really see them, notice how they are talking, take in their language, appreciate the way they are likely to be feeling, hear what they are telling you, and see them for who they really are. To do this, though, we need to put the ever-present and often over-riding mental picture that we have had of our work colleague (often it’s been there for a while, and it’s not always a good perspective!) to one side, so that we can properly see past it, and look again at their reality.


This required concerted effort, but having seen and heard them afresh, what are they trying to tell us, how are they really feeling, what ideas do they have to move things on, how do they feel, etc, they can add more value, both to themselves and to the organisation. We can only know these things though by firstly ‘looking again’, and then questioning to find more to look again at and consider together. This type of respectful and productive interaction will help both you and your work colleagues find more answers and feel more efficient together. Giving the time to really respect, i.e. look again and understand anew, is so very much worth it in terms of work relations.


In Latin, spectare also means ‘to watch’, which in English links to seeing the full view again, but also of being careful. So in addition, respect means ‘be careful again’ – i.e. take care of your work colleagues & relationships, so that interactions can be as helpful as possible within your work. Caring in work terms can be as basic as responding to e-mails, returning phone calls, or following up on items you promised to activate, or if you can’t, then contacting your work colleague to let them know why, and what your revised plan is – using positive, encouraging language and being supportive with them to find new ways forward together.


Respect is a bit like trust, it must be given before it can be expected to come to you. So this New Year, do re-open your eyes, look again and be careful again with your work colleague interactions. Give time to respond & talk and really see your workplace partners for who they really are. Keep it up, and before you know it, you’ll be more productive together and also more respected yourself - simply because you’re willing to give it.

Karen Gray, Director, T-Space