This post is the second of a series on “Corporate Courtesy” from Jay Conway, RDW Partner and man of sage wisdom.

A little respect. Please.

The nonprofit organization “Operation Respect” was founded in 1999 by Peter Yarrow of the legendary folk music trio Peter, Paul & Mary, and the organization’s effort inspired by a song entitled “Don’t Laugh at Me,” which was written by Steve Seskin and Allen Shamblin.

“Don’t Laugh at Me” is a piece that I stumbled upon when surfing iTunes and though the melody made me pause, it was the lyrics that kept me listening. The simple and straightforward lines pack a powerful and thought-provoking message about equality, sensitivity and understanding. And basic respect. Today, Operation Respect provides an elementary school curriculum (aptly called the “Don’t Laugh at Me Curriculum”), which “…incorporates elements of music and the arts to reach the hearts of practitioners and students alike, creating a strong sense of community, encouraging acceptance of differences, and sparking a vital and affirmative school spirit.” Operation Respect touches lives of all ages worldwide.

It struck me that this curriculum has applicability to the workplace.

There seems to be a lack of respect in business today. Sometimes it’s deliberate. Many times defensive. Often times unintentional. Regardless of the circumstances, the result is the same for employees: embarrassment, lowered self-esteem, diminished confidence. And if it’s pervasive, it can lead to poor work performance and low morale.

So why, in this politically correct society that we live in, does it occur. I have my own theories.

We’re constantly moving at such a frenetic pace that we don’t have time for “niceties.” It’s about black and white, right or wrong. The idea doesn’t have merit. The deadline was missed. There’s no time for small talk.

Don’t get me wrong. If the idea doesn’t have merit…then move on. Just plain missed the deadline…pay the consequences. Idle chit chat…do it after work.

No, the respect thing comes into play on how these types of items are dealt with, especially in front of colleagues. How ideas are considered, organizational skills improved, and efficiency enhanced is a management and collegial “art,” anchored by respect. There isn’t a circumstance that we encounter at work that can’t be turned into a learning experience. We just have to step back and find the lesson. How we deal with the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-to-minute either creates a positive, encouraging environment that results in a great product, or establishes a poisonous atmosphere that leads to a defensive, unproductive workforce.                                                             

So how do we show our respect in the workplace?

I believe that sensitivity is a key tenet of respect, which manifests itself by treating people the way that you want to be treated. It can be the simple things like saying hello to fellow workers when you pass them in the hallway or acknowledging people entering a meeting. Checking a colleague’s availability before scheduling a meeting. Copying someone on an email that touches their area of responsibility. Holding a door, making the coffee, or picking-up the conference room before you leave.

The “bigger” things include using a collegial tone in conversations, emails, texts and however else you communicate. Executing patience in all circumstances (and correctly delivering frustration once the patience has expired). Listening. Remaining open minded. Collaborating. Engaging in a little bit of that “chit chat” every now and then.

Why it’s worth it.

In a 2014 study conducted by Harvard Business Review (HBM) and Tony Schwartz of approximately 20,000 employees worldwide (as cited in an HBM article by Christine Porath), it was reported that employees who get respect from their leaders said that they had better health and well-being (56%), greater enjoyment and satisfaction in their jobs (89%), and greater focus and prioritization (92%). And they’re more likely to stay in their positions.

In the opening lines of the song “Respect Yourself,” rock icon Joe Cocker sang: “If you disrespect everybody that you run into, how in the world do you think anybody ‘sposed to respect you.” An extreme sentiment? Sure. But even a little disrespect is a reflection on the “perpetrator.”

I’ve been blessed to work in a respectful environment, and feel that being respectful should be a common action for all of us. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. But it can be if we stop and think before acting. So, I suggest that you pause before you interact with the next work colleague. How are you going to show respect to that person?