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Show Some Respect

Show Some Respect

It happens all the time. An underperforming employee is about to be taken through the discipline procedure on grounds of incapability and they don’t like it. Rather than showing a degree of accountability and accepting that things need to change, frequently they submit a lengthy grievance all about how the manager is showing a lack of respect, and that they are competent, loyal, and hard-working (often this is very far from the case) and that to suggest otherwise is bullying and harassment.

Dealing with poor performance and/ or misconduct is part of a manager’s duty. Nobody wants to go through the discipline process, but employees who don’t meet and maintain an organisation’s standards are a drain on the business. It is not bullying or harassment to have a conversation about correcting an employee’s poor performance or misconduct, nor is it (awful word, of which more later) “disrespecting” them to do so.

Post after post appears on the internet about the importance of respecting everyone even if you don’t like them. I’m afraid I must politely but very firmly disagree.

Everyone has the right to be treated with courtesy. But no one has an absolute right to be treated with respect.

In these days of absurd political correctness how very dare I utter such heresy? Well, it’s quite easy really …. If you understand and use both words correctly, then it makes complete sense. The words “respect” and “courtesy” are NOT interchangeable. They have quite distinct meanings.

Courtesy means “good mannered, polite”.

If you respect someone, you have a good opinion of their character or ideas.

What many people who demand “respect” (when they really mean courtesy) don’t grasp is that courtesy is given, but respect must be earned.

Let me give you an example. If you're on a crowded train or bus and you see an elderly man looking for a seat, and give him yours, that not treating him with respect. That's being courteous.

On the other hand, if you recognise that the old man is Alan Bennett, and you give him your seat because you admire his work, that is respect.

There is a fundamental difference.

In a civilised society we are supposed to treat everyone courteously but extend our respect to only a few. We respect those who have accomplished things we admire. We are courteous to those we do not know. In fact, it’s impossible to respect someone without knowing them (or at least being familiar with their accomplishments),as respect can only be earned through one’s actions.

I always wince internally when I hear people say that someone is “disrespecting them”. Not only is it an ugly word, it is also ungrammatical and incorrect. This is what Collins dictionary says:

You are disrespectful, you show no respect in the way that you speak or behave to someone. For example:

...suggestions that he had been disrespectful to the Queen.
They shouldn't treat their mother in this disrespectful way.
They get angry if they think they are being treated disrespectfully.

We could do with a lot more courtesy in our day to day lives. Like common sense, common courtesy is often in short supply.

Here are some examples of courtesy in the workplace and beyond.

  • Hold the door open for others.
  • Say thank you if someone holds the door open for you.
  • Offer to get a drink for those seated nearby when you get one for yourself.
  • Always put your used dishes in the proper place. If you’re supposed to wash up, do so and do it properly.
  • Smile.
  • Thank others for work well done.
  • Listen before offering your opinion.
  • Keep your work area clean and tidy.
  • Greet people properly (acknowledge them verbally or non-verbally).
  • Introduce yourself to people you don’t know.
  • In meetings or social situations introduce others who don’t know each other.
  • Make an effort to remember and use people’s names.
  • Reply to every invitation you receive. “Yes” or “no” is fine. Not responding keeps people hanging.
  • Don’t assume others have the time to answer your queries, always ask “May I interrupt you?” or “Is this a convenient time to ask a question?”
  • Dress appropriately for the work and environment.
  • Moderate your language and keep crude and insensitive comments out of the workplace.
  • Don’t IM colleagues for side chats or gossip during a meeting.
  • Be punctual.
  • Don’t eat smelly food (eggs, fish) in the office.
  • Courtesy costs nothing and it makes the world a much nicer place. Be kind, be polite, and be prepared to earn respect by the integrity of your actions. 


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Although every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of the information contained in this blog, nothing herein should be construed as giving advice and no responsibility will be taken for inaccuracies or errors.

Copyright © 2020 all rights reserved. You may copy or distribute this blog as long as this copyright notice and full information about contacting the author are attached. The author is Kate Russell of Russell HR Consulting Ltd.

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