Everyone is feeling the effects of the most recent economic crisis. It does not matter if you are a business owner, a student, in middle management, or a stay-at-home parent. We are all worried.

Last week, I had lunch with two business acquaintances – “Amanda” and “Len.” Our conversation naturally turned to a discussion of ideas that might be beneficial to our businesses during this tough time. But the main thing I got out of our meeting had nothing to do with the business ideas we discussed. Rather, I left wondering where common human courtesy had gone.

You see, we got on the subject of cost cutting. Len said, “Well, I told MY people they’d better not spend any money on thus and such…” His voice was dripping with condescension. And instead of referring to his employees as his “team” or “group,” he called them “my people” – as if he owned them.

Amanda was even worse: “I think you should just fire half of your staff,” she said. “They are probably all idiots anyway. I know my people are.”

I thought about how little respect these two individuals have for their teammates. People they work with every day. Then I thought about their teams – and how horrible it must be for them to go into an organization every day, work hard, and receive so little respect.

I was surprised. Amanda and Len are intelligent people who run successful companies. Why would they talk that way?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that by being respectful and courteous you will automatically have a successful business. We all know that it takes a lot more than that. But what I am saying is that respect is the foundation of every relationship. And when you show respect, you receive respect.

Early in my career, while working at Forbes, our company was in a softball league with other publishers (a big thing in New York City). Our team was made up of people from all levels of the company – from the IT directors to the mailroom guys to the marketing assistants. And many days I would go directly from a meeting with Steve Forbes to play softball.

One night after the game, a colleague asked me how I’d become so successful at such a young age. I explained that hard work had a lot to do with it, but that I also respected the people I worked with. I said that gender, age, status, and income had nothing to do with how I treated people – that anyone who was doing a good job, regardless of his or her position, deserved my respect.

This is the same philosophy my husband and I teach our children today. You know the old expression, “Children should be seen and not heard”? Well, whoever made that up most likely received very little respect.

My husband and I show our children the respect that they deserve. After all, why wouldn’t we? Our three-year-old is caring, smart, funny, and can put a smile on the grouchiest person’s face.

And I do my best to associate only with people I respect. Think about it. Would you want to spend your days and nights with people you don’t respect?

Respect is like innocence. Everyone deserves it until they do something that proves otherwise. (Of course, that doesn’t mean you should have an overblown sense of your own worth.)

The best thing about respect is that it is really up to you. If you are in a company where you are not getting respect or you do not respect the people you work with, do something about it.

Mary Ellen Tribby

MaryEllen Tribby is a business consultant and coach to entrepreneurs in the information publishing and digital marketing arena. She led Early to Rise from May 2006 to January 2010 as Publisher & CEO. She has also served as President of Weiss Research, managing divisions of Forbes, Globe Communications, Times Mirror Magazines and Crain’s New York Business. She currently heads up The CEO's Edge and WorkingMomsOnly.com.

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