“Respect” is a core value to many organizations and many of us individually.

Why then is there such a shortage of respect in the workplace and in the world?

One big reason is the common belief that we should only give respect to those who earn it.

If we really want to create a culture of respect where we live or work, we need to shift this belief. We need to become people who give respect to all people and not just those who ‘earn’ it.

Two kinds of respect

There are two kinds of respect: the kind that is earned and the kind that is given.

Respect that is earned comes only to those we think are ‘worthy.’ They have something we admire, like wealth, status, character qualities, beauty, smarts, talent or fame. Or they have done something we admire; they have performed well or accomplished something respectable.

Respect that is given is not limited just to those who earn it. When people give respect to those who don’t earn it, this says more about the giver than the recipient.

The Problem

The problem is that there are lots of people around us at work and elsewhere who are difficult for us to respect. They may behave like jerks, underperform, block our goals, offend us, not pull their weight or otherwise annoy us. They may not be as smart, talented or capable as we are. Or they may just be different.

But if we give respect only when we think others have earned it, we can tend to treat those we don’t respect with judgment, contempt, impatience, pity or apathy. This approach doesn’t tend to help relationships, motivation, engagement or performance – at least for long.

Who deserves respect?

If we really seek to live out this value of respect and create cultures of respect, we need to shift our view of who deserves respect.

On the one hand, we all deserve respect. We are each designed with intrinsic worth. And we each have unique talents, interests, experiences, perspectives, ideas, resources, and abilities to contribute. We each have amazing worth and dignity.

On the other hand, we each are broken and fall short in our actions, thoughts and words. None of us earns respect all the time.

Being respectful means showing people respect even when we don’t think they’ve earned it.

The Solution

Respecting others doesn’t mean being soft and overlooking each other’s shortfalls. It involves setting a high bar for performance, holding others accountable and helping people perform to their potential and towards common goals. It involves seeing them as valuable and helping them strive to live up to that value.

Respecting others involves treating them with grace and dignity even when they mess up, underperform, disappoint or irritate us.

A little humility, patience, empathy, prayer and effort to focus on others’ strengths can go a long way in these situations.

Let’s give each other and ourselves the respect we deserve – and the respect we don’t deserve.


Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. As a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps executives and their teams improve engagement, effectiveness and impact. You can reach him at jbaker@people-results.com or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.