How R-E-S-P-E-C-T Shows Up Differently in the Workplace

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Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone treated each other with respect in the workplace?

Employees respecting each other no matter what the situation would certainly make it easier for the manager.

So often I’ve heard managers say, “I just wish my employees would be respectful towards each other and respectful towards me!”

Some even tell their employees, “That’s it. From now on you’re going to be respectful.”

As a way to combat bullying and incivility, I work with organizations to create a nurturing, supportive, and RESPECTFUL workplace. But don’t you agree that we shouldn’t have to TELL people to BE respectful?

However, you can’t assume everyone knows what respect means.

Just like in the late Aretha Franklin’s song, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me… Leaders need to understand that respect shows up differently among different people.

My husband and I stopped at a CVS pharmacy a few years ago, and as we walked out of the store he said, “Hey Renee. I’ve noticed that any time we shop, and you’re paying with a credit card, and they don’t have that swipey thing that you pay yourself, you just put your credit card on the counter.” He then said, “I find that disrespectful.”

To which I replied, “What are you talking about?” He said, “Just now, you paid with a credit card, but they didn’t have a swipey thing, so you just put your credit card on the counter.” I said, “Instead of what?” He said, “Instead of handing it to the cashier… and I’ve seen you do it before.” He’s already noticed a pattern of behavior in me. I said, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.”  I’m thinking. “You mean to tell me, if I put my card on the counter instead of handing it to the cashier, you think that’s being disrespectful.”

“Yes, I do. You don’t even have the courtesy of handing it to the cashier.”

How many of you think it’s disrespectful to just put your credit card on the counter?

When asked, 40% of my audiences say it’s disrespectful. So since then, every time I shop somewhere, if they don’t have a swipey thing, I say to the cashier, “When people come here, and they pay with credit …” guess how many of them said it was disrespectful, 95%. I think I’m the most respectful human on earth, I teach this stuff, and yet, I was being disrespectful and didn’t even realize it.

To truly cultivate a RESPECTFUL work environment, you need to understand how respect shows up differently to different people.


Did you know in Middle Eastern cultures it is an insult to cross an ankle over a knee, displaying the sole of your shoe while talking to another person? Or that in India, eating with your right hand shows respect for your hosts or company. Muslims also eat with their right hand, but for a different reason. The left hand is reserved for bathroom hygiene, so using it for eating is considered not clean.

Different hand gestures have different meanings depending on where you are, for example; the thumbs up sign in Europe means one; in Australia it means sit on it; but in Greece means Up yours!; and in Japan a thumbs up means Man or five. In most western cultures, it means okay, or you’r0e hitchhiking.

In many Asian country’s, bowing is a show of respect to greet others and express gratitude.

In many cultures, Korea for example, avoiding eye contact is a sign of respect while in the US, avoiding eye contact is considered rude.

Show respect by learning about cultures and how they differ from yours, keeping an open mind and asking questions.

The first time I went to Dubai to keynote a conference, I spent time learning how to show respect to both men and women. I can remember feeling anxious about inadvertently offending someone because I didn’t understand their culture.  I learned that as a woman, never extend your hand to a male because it’s considered disrespectful. You wait until he extends his hand first. I experienced this with one of the other speakers who stayed at the same hotel. We were both being picked up by a car service and met each other in the lobby. I would normally extend my hand as we greeted each other, but because I spent the time learning about their customs, I didn’t. We engaged in amazing conversations throughout the conference and when we departed, he offered his hand to me, which I then shook.

Whether you agree or not isn’t as important as respecting their customs – especially when you’re in their “home”.

For more cultural dos and don’ts, check out the article by Janine Boyland by clicking here.


We all know that respect shows up differently among generations. In fact, if you do a Google search “respect among generations”, you will get 167 million results! Almost every day I hear complaints from one generation against another. One of the most common involves respect.

The older generations don’t think the younger generations respect them and of course, it’s because they feel entitled. Is this really true?

What I’ve learned is that all humans, independent of when they were born, give and receive respect differently. The key is to shift your mindset from a generational “difference” perspective to one of generational “understanding,” especially when it comes to respect.

Respect According to the Boomers

Baby boomers view respect differently than the other generations.

To the boomers, obedience is a sign of respect. They generally give respect to anyone who is an elder. Respect for their experience and knowledge takes the form of listening. Boomers want you to listen and not discard their opinions or complete their sentences. They don’t like it when their younger coworkers perceive their experience as something irrelevant from the past or archaic. The worst thing you could say to a boomer is, “that’s so old school.”

This does not mean baby boomers’ ideas can’t be challenged. They can agree to disagree but at least want to be heard, especially if their boss is younger than them. Younger managers can earn a baby boomer’s respect if they recognize that their past was different than yours but equally valuable.

Baby boomers feel disrespected when people are informal, too casual.

Respect According to the X’ers

So much attention is placed on tension between the Millennial’s and baby boomers but what about the X’ers? A Gen X manager described their group as the middle child or the “sandwich” generation. They are caught in the middle and face pressures from both sides. In the workplace, they are sandwiched between the senior management team and the younger staff while at home, they typically have kids and older parents to care for.

One of the greatest ways to demonstrate respect to an X’er is to respect their time. I can totally relate because I am an X’er and although I’m super easy going, DO NOT DISRESPECT MY TIME!  How this shows up the most in the workplace is during meetings and shift change. If you’re following an X’er’s assignment, getting there a few minutes early is a gift, while coming in late causes anxiety and stress. Not starting a meeting on time or going over is physically painful to an X’er.  When meetings overrun, they may be late picking up kids or getting to a soccer game or relieving a caregiver who’s caring for a parent.

X’ers feel respected when they are given autonomy, and feel disrespected when micromanaged or when you are late.

Respect According to the Millennial’s

The Millennial’s want to be taken seriously by the older generations and not discounted just because of their age.

A key driving force is the need to prove their worth, so achievement and recognition become especially important. It’s important to understand this because while the older generations commonly perceive them as being unrealistic, pampered and impatient, they need to demonstrate patience with their younger counterparts and treat them as equally capable even though they don’t necessarily have the experiences yet.

This generation loves being involved in special projects and learning new skills. The worst thing you can do is making them wait to learn a new skill. I recently learned that at one hospital, their new nurses had to be working 2 years before they were trained on the Ecmo machine. Waiting is torture to a millennial.

Ask them questions to stimulate their thinking and let them come up with their own answers.

Millennial’s feel respected when they’re asked for their input and are included in decision-making. They feel disrespected when they are excluded.

In her article,”What is Respect to a Millennial, a Boomer, and a Gen X’er”, Libby Spears provides the reader with a candid look at respect from the perspective of each generation. She says that respect is valued by all generations but what’s different is how it is expressed.

Regardless of your culture, gender, or generation, take the time to understand how your employees show and want to receive respect.

Then… you’re better able to set a standard in your department about how respect shows up…”in this space.”

What are ways your department cultivates a respectful environment? Be sure to leave a comment below. I can’t wait to read your responses.

Be kind. Take care. Stay connected.

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