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This article was based on episode 003 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Respect. It’s got to be one of them most fundamental and foundational aspects of human relationships. In the workplace, it may be the one thing that makes all other aspects of great management possible. Without a culture of respect, imagine how hard it would be to give meaningful appreciation or actionable feedback, let alone allow for greater autonomy.

TinyPulse’s 2017 global employee engagement report found only 26% of employees feel strongly valued at work. According to the report, “Invisible culture reigns supreme: The top factors related to employee happiness turn out to be the intangible ones such as interpersonal relationships, culture, and work environment.” Respect is one of those intangibles that permeate relationships, culture and the environment, making it a powerful factor in employee engagement and happiness. As a manager, your job is to both give respect and cultivate a respectful environment in which people treat each other with respect.


What happens when you feel disrespected at work?

  • Do you give 110% or go the extra mile?

  • Do you engage fully and do great work?

  • Do you think creatively and share bold ideas?

  • Do you push back, share concerns, or ask tough questions?

  • Do you give others the benefit of the doubt when something goes wrong?

  • Do you listen actively when others are speaking?

A respectful environment leads to less stress, reduced conflict, increased productivity and greater possibility. When people demonstrate respect, it comes through even in moments of conflict. Colleagues are more likely to confront issues head on, seeing themselves as being on the same side with the same goal–to resolve the issue–rather than against each other or trying to be right.

Respectful teams also benefit from psychological safety, "being able to show and employ one's self without fear of negative consequences of self-image, status or career", which leads to more expansive thinking. This means people ask questions, share dissenting perspectives and big ideas without fear of judgement, a critically important factor in innovation and risk management.


A culture of respect starts with you as the team leader. Be intentional about the following behaviors to show greater respect to your colleagues.

Listen first and lead with questions.

Ever ask someone you’ve just met a question and after answering, he doesn’t respond with a question back? Or how about that person who never seems to hear what you say because after you speak, she continues on without referencing or building on your remarks. In both cases, you likely feel ignored, frustrated or at a loss. Being listened to and feeling your perspective is valued often comes from being asked questions and hearing your own remarks mirrored back or referenced as the conversation unfolds.

As a manager, it may seem like your job is to provide answers. In some cases, that’s true, but more important if to be an active listener. Try posing questions and responding to what’s already been said, even to simply acknowledge that you’ve been paying attention. This should open the dialogue to help you collectively reach a great answer while simultaneously demonstrating respect.

Be intentional and beware of email.

Tone and meaning can get lost in email communications. In my work as a coach, I hear many stories about challenging bosses. In one situation, a woman about to go on a vacation received an email from her boss that said, “l want to speak with you when you get back. I’ll schedule some time for us. Have a great time and safe travels!” She read this email just before boarding her flight and was completely freaked out. Her mind started racing–am I in trouble, will I be fired, what did I miss? Upon her return, she met with her boss and discovered that her worries were unfounded.

Messages such as these leave lots of room for interpretation. Think twice about sending an email that contains criticism, an emotional response or information that may easily be misinterpreted. When an email contains complex instructions or is overly vague, you may be setting up the reader to fail. Speaking in person allows you to ensure they understand the message and have the information they need to do their job.

Finally, some things just need to be said in person to show the recipient respect. There’s not hard and fast rule. Just use your judgement and ask yourself, “if I was on the receiving end, would I prefer this to be a conversation rather than an email?”

Take responsibility for your actions.

I’ll just say it: If you make a mistake, admit it. Apologize to someone if you’ve acted in a way that was disrespectful. If you had an emotional response or dropped the ball, acknowledge your actions and their impact. When you show vulnerability, you’re displaying psychological safety, in essence saying, “I trust and respect you enough to show you that I know I’m not perfect.” Don’t try to hide errors, blame external factors, or point the finger at other people. Respect isn’t earned by being perfect, but it can develop from being honest and showing that you’re trying.


Helping your team members act respectfully towards one another can be a bit more challenging that changing your own behavior.

Make it a team effort.

One way to build awareness and buy-in is to bring the concept to the team. Empower the group to define what a respectful work environment looks like. To help you do this, I’ve developed a guide to building a culture of respect with your team. Encourage them to be as descriptive as possible in listing actions and behaviors, and then create an agreement for the group to collectively uphold. It’s very powerful when the group commits to things like:

  • Do not send emails after 10pm or before 6am to respect people’s home life.

  • When there is conflict, confront the issue and/or the person head on rather than talking behind people’s backs.

  • Come to meetings on time and having completed all pre-work.

Use your meetings to model respect.

Respect, or the lack of it, is often visible in group settings. Meetings are a perfect activity for demonstrating respect and holding the group accountable. Here are a few approaches to cultivate a culture of respect:

  • Do not accept anything less that polite, professional behavior. There are ways to disagree that are respectful and those that aren’t. Do not tolerate personal attacks, rudeness, or gossip.

  • Foster engagement by using facilitation techniques to get everyone’s thinking in the room. Use ‘yes and’ instead of ‘no but’ as a ground rule. Point out when someone is interrupted and allow her to finish.

  • Give credit and show appreciation to people who think outside the box, take risks by sharing unpopular ideas, or ask questions. Try assigning someone to play ‘devil’s advocate’ or take 5 minutes for everyone to only share criticisms, push back or tough questions.

  • Consider who should be invited to the meeting, who needs to give input ahead of time and who needs to be informed of the meeting outcomes. Engage each person accordingly. Many people view meeting invitations as a sign of importance, when in fact, including someone in a meeting she doesn’t need to be in is wasting her time.


Respect is mutually reinforcing. Common wisdom says you have to give respect to get it. If you don’t feel respected, you’re unlikely to treat others with respect. This vicious cycle can be transformed into a virtuous one when you behave in ways that demonstrate respect, and, it starts with you. As the team leader, you must role model the behaviors you desire to see within your team.

Treat your responsibility for a respectful and healthy team culture with the same intentionality as your performance goals. Start by downloading the guide to building a culture of respect with your team at and subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter to receive articles, episodes and worksheets delivered weekly to your inbox.

This article was based on episode 003 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Optimize your time. Cultivate your team. Achieve your goals.

Leave a comment below or tweet at me @mamieks.

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