How to be Respectful: Leaders and Interpersonal Interactions

It may seem trivial. Why am I writing a blog post about respect? It’s because we humans are terrible at it. Often, we make snap judgments, hold onto grudges after one meeting, or unnecessarily laud the presence of someone. Why do we do this? It’s a bias we hold as people, and leaders must recognize that they have a skewed perspective when it comes to meeting new people and providing the respect they deserve.

You may think that you’re an extroverted person who enjoys meeting new people. You might think you’re good at getting to know someone. Even more so, you believe you are good at respecting someone. However, we do not live in our own realities.

We live in someone else’s reality.

Here, we’ll discuss how to respect someone you’re meeting for the first time. Why is it essential to recognize respect as an integral part of meeting people? It’s because leaders meet people every day. Yet, we still have issues with meeting dissimilar people. Here are some ways to address this concern.

Recognize that you’re not as good at reading people as you think you are

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Talking to Strangers identified several studies that talk about how awful people are at gauging someone’s character. One such study Gladwell discusses is that we are 56% accurate at assessing strangers. This claim is based on the research of judges and their determinations to grant bail for defendants.

I have read a couple of books on body language. And, even now, I still have a hard time reading people. We can have this information at our fingertips, but it’s not useful unless it is appropriately used. However, understand that even when applied correctly, we may not be entirely accurate in our perceptions of strangers.

Have you met someone that you knew you didn’t like? Could you accurately identify why you didn’t like that person? Perhaps, the default was not to trust that particular person. We might not like the way we initially met someone. The opposite is also true. Have you initially met someone you liked a lot? How were you drawn to that person?

The bottom line here is that we need to reserve judgment when we’re meeting people. The unpopular opinion is to refrain from snap judgments when we meet people. We must be open to new views of people we know well. Leaders must also stay objective in personal and work relationships.

Understand that our default is trust

Another instinct we have is to default to trust. We use the term “innocent until proven guilty” in the United States for this reason. Gladwell’s book also talks about judges having to decide to hold people on bail or to release them for the court date. The judge must have an element of trust in an alleged criminal to allow a person’s freedom before trial.

Should we be so trusting of others? I think so. Otherwise, how could we enjoy the benefits of a community? This trust does have significant drawbacks, though. However, the pros can outweigh the cons in most cases. People thrive on trusting each other.

So, how does a leader navigate through their instinct? Take each individual as an individual. Resist grouping and overgeneralizations of people. When you have a stellar or lazy performer on your team, refrain from stereotyping. Every individual is vital to your organization, and it’s your job to coach and mentor. You can’t effectively lead when you have a bias. Navigate through your default by using it. Trust your team until someone betrays that trust. Does that seem naive? It might.

I’m not advocating for an entirely hands-off approach. However, I am emphasizing that you can continue using your default, but leave the door open for changes. Don’t lock in your opinions of lazy or stellar people. Always be open to change when change comes.

Speak positively about people you meet

When you meet someone new, they’re going to have things you like and things you don’t. The words you say about people come back to haunt you if it’s negative. Wouldn’t you want someone to give you the benefit of the doubt? We have to make quick decisions every day about those we meet, and that’s not a bad thing.

If you don’t understand something, just ask. Make sure that when you’re asking, you come from a position of humility. The world has enough egotistical people, so don’t be one of those. It’s a good practice to ask the person about a cultural norm if you do not understand.

If you have to speak poorly about someone, do it behind closed doors, and do it professionally—express concerns, not drama. We tend to exaggerate the negative, and that can ruin people’s lives and careers. Your baseline should be what’s best for the company or organization. If you don’t think someone is a good fit, you must have those reasons well-documented. Otherwise, don’t destroy someone’s career, job, or personal life because you don’t have sufficient evidence to suggest otherwise. Instead, seek to understand that person.

Speaking positively about people shows a lot about your character as well. Leaders must be able to work with many types of people who do not share similar views, customs, or cultures. When leaders speak poorly of their subordinates, they lose the trust of their teams and their superiors. Understand that you have a different point of view than the person you’re meeting.

If these aren’t incentive enough, then think about this. Leaders depend on networks to thrive in their workplaces. Gossipping could get you in trouble even if it’s subtle. How do you think that’ll impact your work? If you’re speaking kindly about people, then you shouldn’t have to worry.

Conclusion

Simply stated, be kind. Remember, the stranger you’re meeting is meeting you for the first time as well. They’ll also have judgments about you, too. Would you like to make a good impression? Just remember, be kind to those you meet. You never know when you’ll run into those people again.

What have you done as a leader to show respect to those you meet? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks!

8 thoughts on “How to be Respectful: Leaders and Interpersonal Interactions”

  1. Jannette says:

    This is remarkably interesting learning to be respectful to leaders. I usually stick the phrase if you have nothing nice to say then saying nothing at all.  The studies mentioned in your article that was found in Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, got me wanting to find this book and read it online. It is important to me to be respectful in business settings and not judge others.

    1. Robert says:

      Jannette,

      I’ll be writing a review of the book here soon! Stay tuned. Thanks for your comment!

      Robert

  2. Aminah Ahmed says:

    Respect is a characteristic trait that is vital for every human to have. Most people now show no regard or respect for anyone around them. Especially as leader its even more important to have integrity towards others. This was a very well written article and hope that many get the chance to read it!

    1. Robert says:

      Aminah,

      It really is important to be respectful as a leader. I’m glad you enjoyed the article!

      Robert

  3. Joy says:

    Hello there! this is an amazing article you have got here. This article is highly informative and I am sure it will help others same way it is helping me at the moment. I totally agree with everything you have written here especially the fact that speaking positive about anyone you meet at first is better than speaking negative.

    1. Robert says:

      Joy,

      I’m glad you found the article useful! Thank you for your comment.

      Robert

  4. suzanne says:

    Hi Robert, and thanks for this great post!
    It’s not only leadership who should consider what they say, but everyone in my opinion.
    It’s very hard to judge someone in your first meeting. People aren’t inclined to share openly with you when you first meet. They don’t trust you either, lol.
    Many times I see people judging shy people as being a “snob”. And it’s just because they’re not comfortable talking to you. They’re not looking down on you.
    You’ve written a wonderful article pointing out a lot of great advice, thank you.
    Cheers,
    Suzanne

    1. Robert says:

      Suzanne,

      I think you’re right. We, people, have a difficult time reading each other. I appreciate your opinion here. Thank you for your comment!

      Robert

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