People & Human Resources

What is respect and what role does it play in the workplace?

Engel Schmidl /

Respect is a hot topic at work and in politics! Mainly this is because we have such an array of disrespectful behaviours that get into the media or end up as bullying or harassment cases at work.

When someone is respectful it makes you feel good about yourself, or at the very least doesn’t cause you to feel bad. When people are rude and insensitive – that shows disrespect – and leads to lowering of self-esteem, anger and hurt, and a disruption at work. Conflict can build and is often hard to resolve.

Strong communication is a skill that still eludes a lot of people. We all tend to know what we want to say, and what message we want to get across, but the delivery of that message can create a wide array of unintentional consequences.

If you are too blunt, or perhaps too indirect with what you are trying to say, then you can give an entirely incorrect impression to the person you’re communicating with. It is interesting that large organisations have entire departments dedicated to communications, recognising the effort required in getting this aspect of business right, but in our personal lives we rarely attend to such things.

A few common themes seem to be emerging lately, which brings me to highlight a few points on communication:

Don’t blurt out insensitive comments or make racist remarks

It is incredible that we still have to tell people not to be racist. There is still a lot of confusion around what racism is and it appears that this leads to a lot of inadvertent insensitivity. If you are assuming that someone will act or think in a certain way based on their race then you run this risk of eventually saying something offensive. Treat people as individuals. Everyone has their own strengths, weaknesses and unique set of experience that makes them a unique contributor to the workface. If you create the habit of looking beyond the superficial and into the individual then you won’t be mistakenly causing offense.

Don’t text, email or write rude comments about people and share it around, even with close friends

Everyone seems to have a story about an email or more likely a text message that was sent to the wrong person. Typically it’s a story about an offensive message being sent by mistake to the person the comment was about. Email, text, or any other electronic forms of communication (particularly the highly public social media channels) are prone to errors that will embarrass you and the person you are complaining about. Also avoid destructive conversations when you are venting about a situation that bothers you.

Of course, the workplace is an arena full of frustration and irritation, and venting is a common and important aspect of dealing with it, but always try to push your efforts towards addressing grievances with the person you have the issue with.

Don’t talk behind someone’s back

It is a common trap to ‘talk behind someone’s back’. There is a difference between outright badmouthing someone and seeking advice on how best to approach a problem you have. Talking behind someone’s back has a habit of finding its way around the office and back to the person on the receiving end. If you are really frustrated with someone, try and talk to them directly before you build it out of all proportion. If you can’t, then approach a colleague that knows them well and ask for advice on how to approach the situation in a more proactive way. It will save you a lot of trouble in the long run.

Don’t speak over the top of people

It can be because of excitement, it can be because of a power-play, but talking over the top of someone is really disempowering. It can be quite intimidating if someone who is more senior, or has a louder voice or a larger frame talks over you – make sure you are not one of these people. If you are paying attention to how you are being received you will note some irritation. If you are the one being spoken over then make sure you act assertively and put an end to it quickly. The longer you allow it to continue the harder it will be to push the dynamic back in the other direction.

Whenever you communicate, through any medium, you need to make sure you are highly aware of how the receiver of that communication will respond.

Eve Ash has produced some exciting new videos – drama, comedy and animation – on these critical topics: Ensuring a respectful workplace, Behaving Unprofessionally, Creating a NO Blame Culture, Appreciating Diversity and SWITCH on Respect. All the videos and assessment tools can be found on


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