Feeling disrespect in the workplace is unpleasant and disheartening. You feel disconnected from your coworkers, and unlikely to achieve promotions or the best projects. But if people don’t respect you, the problem isn’t them, it’s you. Something about how you behave tells others that they should not respect you. Take a look at your own behavior when you feel like you can’t get professional respect. Chances are, you can change a few things and start earning that respect you crave.
Navigating professional respect and how to get respect
A common misconception people make is equating being well-liked with being respected. You probably like and respect a lot of people, but think about this: sometimes you like someone but you don’t respect them. Other times, you don’t like someone, yet can’t help but respect them. Some of the things you do to get people to like you, like gossiping or always agreeing to favors, are actually chipping away at your professional respect. Aim for respect, first. Not everyone will love you, but in the office, respect is far more valuable.
Comport yourself with confidence
When you’re wondering how to get people to respect you, start with respecting yourself. Confidence and self-respect go hand-in-hand. Show people how you expect to be treated and seen by treating and seeing yourself that way. Confidence is usually quiet; you don’t crow about your accomplishments but you’re not uncertain or always seeking approval, either. Respect what you’re good at and take pleasure in doing it well. People will respect you for the same thing.
Remember, though, that confidence is not arrogance. An arrogant person inflates everything they do and acts like it never occurred to them that they aren’t the best in the room. Arrogance is usually masking a lack of confidence, and people don’t respect a braggart. A confident person, on the other hand, knows when they do a good job and doesn’t need to tell everyone about it multiple times.
Do your job well
The people in the office who command respect know their jobs and do them well. That means turning things in on time, doing your tasks the correct way, and not trying to push off your work on someone else. Another aspect of doing your job well is sharing what you know. Help new coworkers find their footing, let your team know about a shortcut or a hack you found to make part of your job easier.
When you screw up, admit to it. Don’t try to place blame on someone else. If you own what you did wrong, your coworkers and boss will be more apt to listen when you describe the parts that weren’t your fault. It’s also far more respectable to acknowledge when you failed than to try to weasel your way out of taking responsibility.
Communicate effectively and professionally
How to get respect centers around all your work actions, including your written communication. Write your business emails with proper grammar. Keep them to the point and clear, without long-winded sentences or too many ideas or requests. While texting, avoid emoticons and don’t use any slang or abbreviations.
Even when you’re more comfortable with someone, the most you should do is adopt a friendlier tone. Remember: you aren’t communicating with family and friends, but with coworkers and industry contacts. Written communication, especially, must be professional because there’s an electronic record of it.
Be willing to say no
Often, when you want to be likeable, you say yes to every favor or task someone asks of you, before you give yourself a chance to think about whether or not you can or want to do it. You will not lose any respect if you say no. In fact, you’ll be showing respect for your own time and skills, which in turn earns you respect from your coworkers.
Saying no is difficult, especially if you’re used to saying yes. Start by never committing to something right away. Tell the person asking that you need time to check your schedule, and that you’ll get back to them within a few hours or a day, depending on what they’re asking. If it’s your boss and the task isn’t within your assigned duties, tell them that you want to be helpful, but that you need to make sure it won’t interfere with your existing work.
When you evaluate the request and realize you can’t do it, simply say no. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for why you can’t. Wanting to have an evening free to watch Netflix is as valid a reason to say no to something as is having a doctor’s appointment. If someone pushes for a reason or tries to get you to reconsider, be firm. Tell them you’re sorry, but you can’t help out this time. Be kind but firm.
Ignore the gossip
Workplace gossip is always going to happen, but you don’t need to be part of it. If someone comes up to you and starts talking workplace gossip, stop them. No matter how much you might want to hear the story about Brad from Human Resources, you shouldn’t contribute in any way to the gossip chain. That includes listening. People might be annoyed that you’re not willing to badmouth your boss or discuss someone’s ugly pair of khakis, but people will respect you for being someone who doesn’t go behind others’ backs.
When you do find out confidential information about someone you work with, don’t spread it around. Keep it to yourself. The same goes for minor complaints and annoyances. If you need to vent, wait until you get home and talk to your family. A simple irritated comment to the wrong person can become the next gossip spark.
Always behave professionally
Professional respect blooms from professional behavior. It should be obvious that you need to behave professionally in the office. That means following codes of conduct and other rules, being cordial to your coworkers, and keeping outbursts of anger or frustration to yourself.
You need to behave professionally at other work gatherings, too. Don’t be the person at the conference who gets too drunk and hits on half the people at the marketing mixer. Don’t make out with anyone in the bathroom at the office Christmas party. Getting sloppy and letting loose is appropriate when you’re with friends, not when you’re at a work function or industry event. You can still have fun! Smile, laugh, tell funny ex-client stories, and talk about your personal life a little. You can act professionally and gain respect without seeming like a dour curmudgeon.
Nobody respects the person who is always bitter or jealous when someone else has a great achievement. When your coworkers have successes, celebrate with them. Smile and congratulate them with sincere words. It doesn’t matter how you feel about them on the inside. Someone who commands respect is able to give credit to people who have done well.
Similarly, when your team has had a success, celebrate that with your coworkers. Emphasize others’ contributions, and congratulate everyone on a job well-done. If you feel like one person didn’t pull enough weight, the time for that conversation isn’t while your team is celebrating. Nor is the time for that conversation in front of everyone else.
At work, complaining and whining sound exactly the same. If you complain incessantly about your job, your boss, or your coworkers, you put out the vibe that you don’t want to be there. Nobody will want to work with you or give you exciting new opportunities if you’re a complainer. Instead, when you’re unhappy, look inward. Decide what you can do to make your job better, and devote your energy to making that happen. Have a conversation with your boss about using your skills differently, or converse with your coworkers in a respectful way if they’re doing something that bothers you.
You won’t earn respect overnight. Instead, getting respect at work will be a gradual process. Some people will respect you more easily than others, but the important thing is to keep comporting yourself in a way you can be proud of, even if other people want to stoop to a lower level. Your actions say that you are worthy of respect, so pay attention and feel better about your work environment.