How to be Respectful: Leaders and Interpersonal Interactions

What roles do leaders play regarding respect in the workplace?

Leaders have an essential responsibility to uphold a standard of respect at work. Moreover, anyone in a leadership position should be an example of respect.

However, why do we have images of yelling, backbiting, gossiping, and stonewalling bosses in our mental models of the boss persona?

Unfortunately, these stereotypes are too common in our workplaces.

Instead of becoming the stereotypical tyrant, great leaders must employ empathy and respect when dealing with their subordinates. Here are three ways to do that:

How to be respectful

Photo by Gary Barnes

Treat People How They Want To Be Treated

Malcolm Gladwell’s book Talking to Strangers identified several studies that address human error in judging tense situations. Based on these studies, Gladwell’s book suggests that we are susceptible to bias in our thinking, which leads us to misjudge tense situations.

Coming back to a leadership situation, it’s important to handle each person differently. Although equality is important, it’s more important to treat people how they want to receive support. If you treated each person equally, then your team wouldn’t receive ultimate satisfaction.

Instead, treat everyone with equity, where each person receives the resources they need to achieve success in your organization.

To elaborate, Chris Voss, a well-known former FBI negotiator, needed to cater to each negotiation differently. Voss’s book Never Split the Difference discussed how his approach depended on the situation in which he found himself.

Also, Voss advocates for using a soothing voice when in a tense situation, which also helps others to feel at ease in your presence. They feel like they’re being treated well.

Similarly, in less-intense situations, your best weapon is listening. Carefully annotate your employee’s needs and defend them to your bosses. Remember, always take responsibility for your team.

Also, train and mentor the team. Ensure each receives opportunities to grow within your organization.

How to be respectful

Photo by Jopwell

Human Default Is Trust

Another instinct we have is to default to trust. For instance, we use the term “innocent until proven guilty” in the United States for this reason.

Similarly, 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? While in leadership, absolutely. Otherwise, how could you enjoy the benefits of a community? We trust people every day when we hop into our car and drive to work. We trust that people will stop for red lights and to adhere to traffic laws.

The same goes for leadership. Use this to your advantage, and trust your team to accomplish their tasks for you.

How can we use trust to our advantage?

First, 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 those on your team.

Remember, you can’t effectively lead when you have a bias.

Second, continue to divvy tasks to your team and see who accomplishes their work.  You’ll discover those who need more coaching and those who need less. Regardless, you will have completed a two-fold mission: tasks accomplished and employees who need further development.

How to be respectful

Photo by Gabby K

Speak Positively About All People

When you meet someone new, they’re going to exhibit desirable and undesirable characteristics. You’re responsible for finding positivity in each person, even if they’re awkward, rude, or otherwise unpleasant.

Moreover, you’re responsible for speaking kindly about everyone you meet. If you listen to gossip about others, do not spread it. Doing so will ruin your reputation.

Sometimes, you’ll run into issues that you don’t understand. When dealing with people on your team and others around you, ensure you’re giving people a healthy dose of empathy.

Further, if you don’t understand something, 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.

Leaders hold a significant amount of power to change the lives of their subordinates. This should humble you. So, don’t speak poorly about those on your team to vent. Instead, be candid about the problem and seek out solutions.

Conversely, speaking positively about people shows a lot about your character as well. Leaders must work with many types of people who do not share similar views, customs, or cultures.

How to be respectful

Photo by Emmy E


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!

Books Mentioned

Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell. Read a review here.

Never Split the Difference Chris Voss

Photo Credit

Featured Image: Gustavo Fring

1: Gary Barnes

2: Jopwell

3: Gabby K

4: Emmy E


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

  1. 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. Jannette,

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


  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

    1. 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!


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