Gaining Respect at Work

Updated Mar 28, 20222 min
Gaining Respect at Work

Gaining Respect at Work

Caroline BantonUpdated Mar 28, 20222 min
Gaining Respect at Work

You might be so well-liked at work that you have no shortage of lunch or coffee dates. That’s fantastic! But being well-liked does not necessarily mean that you will be top of the list to join a team and work on a significant project. There is a difference between being liked versus being respected. What’s the difference, and how do they impact your career?

This article will help you determine whether you are being disrespected at work and help you to decide what to do about it. It will explain how to garner the trust and support of others by emanating confidence and competence. Read on to change the trajectory of your career.

The “Treat Others” Lore

Even if you are well-liked at work, you may not be highly respected. Being liked reflects your approachability while being respected reflects how competent others perceive you to be. 

If you feel disrespected at work, you’re not alone. According to the Harvard Business Review, an astounding 98 percent of respondents to a survey reported experiencing disrespectful behavior in their work environment over the course of a year.

A rule of thumb we should follow at work and in all aspects of life is to “treat others as you would want to be treated.” It’s important to show respect to everyone, from your boss to the janitor. If you respect others, they will respect you. Unfortunately, some workplaces tolerate disrespect and, in some cases, model it.

Respect Is Modeled by the Leadership

Sadly, if disrespect is rife in a workplace, it’s usually because the leaders and managers behave that way. If this is the case, disrespect is normalized and becomes acceptable. Disrespect in the workplace is corrosive. It can infiltrate the culture and create a toxic environment and high staff turnover.

A culture of disrespect will not change quickly, so it pays to thoroughly research an organization to make sure you are not walking into a bad situation when you accept a job.

If the disrespect you experience is limited to one colleague or to one or two rare occurrences, there are strategies that you can employ to be assertive and gain some respect at work.

Check Your Own Reactions

First, check that what you consider to be disrespectful is not just an overreaction on your part. Are you feeling sensitive for some reason? If so, you could be misreading people’s intentions. 

To check, look at the body language of others when you are around them. If they fold their arms and roll their eyes, that is certainly an indicator of disrespect. However, if they just seem curt or inattentive, they might simply be too busy to engage.

Signs You Are Being Disrespected at Work

Your instincts are often right. If you are sensing feelings of hostility, feeling left out, or generally getting upset due to work relationships, it’s time to address the issue before it affects your physical and psychological health as well as your career growth. If any of these apply to you, it’s time to take action.

  • Your boss or colleagues ask others for their opinion, but not you.

  • Your suggestions are ignored.

  • You are frequently interrupted in a conversation.

The above are more subtle signs of disrespect that you might encounter. However, there are more egregious situations where you should consider leaving as soon as possible because they could be described as abusive.

  • You are criticized and disparaged in front of others.

  • You are the brunt of jokes or the subject of gossip.

  • You experience retaliation for bringing up concerns.

  • You receive inaccurate and unjust performance reviews.

  • You are overlooked for deserved promotions.

  • You experience bias, harassment, and discrimination.

For more on performance reviews, read “Bad Performance Review? Here’s How to Handle It

If the above more serious circumstances apply to you, and your manager or HR representative has not resolved the problem, consult your employee handbook and human resources for information on complaint and grievance procedures. Consider filing a complaint with your state human rights office and the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Find the Root Cause

If the disrespect seems manageable, some strategies can help you. You first need to find the root cause. For example, where work colleagues are concerned, did you do something to influence how someone treats you? Were you a little standoffish when you first met them or dismissive somehow? Do you tend to be an introvert in a sea of extroverts? Are there cultural differences to consider? Do you constantly talk about your last job or your credentials in a rather pompous way? Are you a contributor to office gossip?

If you cannot pinpoint what might be the trigger of the disrespect, ask someone you trust at work if they could give you some candid feedback and help you understand why you may not have the respect of your coworkers. Don’t go on the defensive. Be open-minded and willing to hear something you might not like.

Address the Perpetrator

If just one person disrespects you, ask them to meet with you one-on-one. It will be a difficult conversation, so meet in a private place where no one will overhear. Don’t be aggressive, but explain what you are experiencing and use “I” statements so that you are not placing blame on the other person.

Successful people can put themselves in the other person’s shoes and understand a problem from their perspective. They garner the respect of others by taking responsibility for any mistakes they made. Ask if the person can suggest ways that the two of you can improve the relationship dynamics. People respect a direct approach that asks them how they would like to resolve a problem.

To read more about resolving conflicts with staff members, read “Conflict Resolution Skills in the Workplace.”

Change Your Behavior

It’s difficult to change the behavior of others, but you can change your own behavior, which might have a knock-on effect. For example, assume a more confident countenance and act like a valued employee. Demonstrate respect to everyone, enthusiastically greet all coworkers, and strike up conversations if appropriate.

Ask colleagues to go to coffee with you, and ask them for advice on subjects. People like to be able to help or show their expertise. Be interested in their lives. People naturally warm to people who take an interest in them. Ask your direct reports for feedback and input if you are a manager. You might be surprised at what you can learn from others.

Be assertive when it comes to collaborating, and offer to help people. Speak up if you are interrupted or overlooked, and don’t ignore any remarks or bad behaviors. If you allow people to walk all over you, they will.

Always do good work to demonstrate your competence and skill set. This will encourage others to want to work with you.

Be Confident

Being disrespected can take a toll on your confidence. You may start to doubt your own capabilities or opinions. It’s important to maintain your self-esteem and stand up for yourself. Using “I” statements shows confidence and will discourage others from dismissing you. Some examples of assertive statements are the following:

  • I disagree with spending more resources on that project.

  • I see several potential problems with that approach.

  • I have a proposal for a new approach that I think would be more effective.

  • No, I can’t help you today, but I do have time tomorrow.

It can take time for relationships to change among team members, so try to be patient as you attempt to build mutual trust and respect.

If you are feeling lost in your career, talk to a career professional, counselor, or mentor to plan a course of action. An impartial third party can be invaluable in helping you to navigate your career and make the right decisions.

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications

Grow your career with a coach

Find my coach