Respect Through Words

Posted on April 15, 2010


Team Leadership, photo from

No one would reasonably feel good when being humiliated, put down, or spoken to in a demeaning manner, and rightfully so. As leaders, a most fundamental respect for our team members we can give is simply to speak to them with dignity.

In the perspective of our team members, it is essential that we do so, as it preserves their self esteem as they interact with the team and allow them to perform their tasks confidently. In the perspective of the team in general, it is essential that we do so, as only when the team members trust that their work and ideas will be positively accepted and evaluated will they step out and present their views, which is absolutely critical for the team to improve as a whole.

Respect involves being careful with the words we say. It requires us to present our truthful view in a way that is constructive and objective, rather than a manner that has no positive benefit and may only cause self doubt and embarrassment to team members. A useful way to construct our comments would be by using phrases such as “It may be better to…”, “It would help if you…”, or “You may improve by…” This immediately sets your comments to be in a solution frame, making what you say solution oriented rather than problem oriented, as we all know that dwelling on the problem would take us no where near the solution. As Einstein succinctly puts it, “The same thinking that gives us the problem would not give us the solution.”

Respect also involves being sensitive to the tone of voice we use. It requires us to be mindful of HOW we say what we say, for the same sentence, said under the conditions of different vocal inflexions may give rise to radically different meanings. For instance, the words “Good job!” when said to commend someone, would mean exactly the opposite when said in sarcasm.

Miller was a manager in a paper production factory. Being the typical unreasonable and proud boss, Miller was notorious for his incredulously insulting comments that he threw at his subordinates should they fail to meet his expectations. In one instance, he commented that an employee was “born without a brain” as he failed to clinch a deal, and in another case he remarked that an employee was “too poor to afford a clock” when he arrived late for a meeting. Often, Miller’s employees could be seen sulking for hours after a verbal lashing from him.

This bad leadership habit finally turned on him when Miller made a mistake in the figures that was presented to a major potential client. His team members all noticed the discrepancy immediately, but they were too fearful of being verbally abused should they say something wrong that they stayed silent rather than pointed it out. This led to an uproar when the client realised the difference too late, and the company had to pay a huge compensation sum.

While workplace leadership explicitly implies the necessity of managers and subordinates, we should always bear in mind that in spite of the hierarchy, everyone in the team are fellow colleagues, and it is crucial that we maintain respect to keep the relationship harmonious and healthy.

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