Ned Parks recently posted a story about a woman who would request that co-workers put away newspapers that displayed pictures of a politician she didn’t like. She reportedly found it “disrespectful”.
Chetan Borkhetaria, referencing the same example, intelligently asked whether it was possible to take common courtesies too far.
Is a culture where everyone feels obligated to share excessive “pleases”, “thank yous”, and “I’m sorries” really healthy? The answer is no. At least not if the behaviors are driven by a sense of fear and caution.
Respect is a two-way street. One direction is intention (of behaviors and words) and the other is perception. The true litmus test of a respectful workplace is whether or not the predominate intentions are to treat co-workers in ways that value, esteem and dignify them. This, of course, requires an inquisitive, learning environment where people gradually learn more about their peers so they know what is important to them. It’s difficult to value and esteem people if you don’t know what they value and how they show it.
At the same time, respectful workplaces are not fragile. They tolerate inadvertent missteps, explore them, work through them, and move forward. From the perceiver’s perspective, this means we give our co-workers the benefit of the doubt and do not assume bad intentions just because something someone said or did rubbed us the wrong way. In fact, we’re even willing to explore the possibility that even the perception of disrespect could be our own issue.
At the end of the day, respectful workplaces are robust and full of dialogue and activities that constantly probe the edges of our awareness and emotions. They are places where we learn about others, but also where we learn about ourselves.