Being good at your job means more than mastering a set of skills. It’s not just about what you do, but how you do it. Getting things done by blunt force may work in the short term, but in the long term, you’ll exert much more influence and have much more organizational impact if you have the respect of your colleagues. Respect accelerates your professional growth, your personal brand, and your career.
A recent study published in Harvard Business Review by Kristie Rogers of Marquette University, found that when it comes to the workplace, there are two major categories of respect: owed respect and earned respect.
In a healthy organization, “Owed respect is accorded equally to all members of a work group or an organization…It’s signaled by civility and an atmosphere suggesting that every member of the group is inherently valuable,” says Rogers. Whereas “earned respect recognizes individual employees who display valued qualities or behaviors. It distinguishes employees who have exceeded expectations.”
Earned respect, in other words, is inherently about distinguishing yourself from others. It’s about the habits and behaviors you display that make people sit up and take notice. Here are six habits displayed by people who earn respect at work.
1. They listen, even when it feels irrelevant.
People who are respected at work garner that respect because “they understand the value and power of relationships," says Dr. Froswa' Booker-Drew, author of the workbook for women "Rules of Engagement: Making Connections Last." They listen without always having to or without having an answer, says Booker-Drew. And when they listen, they’re all in. Research supports leaving cellphones outside the meeting room to ensure you're listening closely. A recent study linked a clear correlation between decreased cognitive abilities and the presence of a nearby cell phone—even if the phone had notifications and sounds turned off. So, turn your phones off and your ears on. Your professional reputation will thank you.
2. They know when to practice quiet.
If you want to work in an environment of trust and respect, you need to contribute to that culture. And one of the greatest enemies of a healthy culture is backtalk.
“As a general rule, highly respected and trusted people do not gossip in the workplace,” says Val Grub, who has held senior roles at NBC Universal and Rolls-Royce, and is now Workplace Coach at TONE Networks. “While gossip may feel like idol chitchat, it's actually bullying dressed up as information sharing.”
As a baseline, “If you wouldn’t say the comments to the person directly, there’s a really strong possibility you’re engaging in gossip.”
Many leadership experts agree that gossiping is a key indicator of an unhealthy organization, because all that negativity contributes to a serious lack of trust.
“Employee morale takes a major hit as well,” Grub says, “along with creativity and productivity. I tell my clients: if you hear gossip, shut it down. People will know they can trust you and your working life will be so much better for it.
3. They look out for others in meetings.
People who are respected at work often garner quite a bit of political capital. But they use that capital to help others, says Jeff Skipper, a consultant who works with many Fortune 500 companies.
“They draw others into the conversation that have been silent or don’t have the social strength to break into the discussion," Skipper continues. "Or they strengthen another’s voice, lending instant credibility to a diverse thinker, which is often just what a team needs to break out of the box.”
The best thinking comes from the most diverse organizations. Support diverse points of view so you don’t reinforce the echo-chamber.
4. They see mistakes as a chance to get better.
Most respected people at work don’t kill precious time pointing fingers. When they commit a mistake, they own up to it. And if their team falters, they take collective responsibility.
“They spend time analyzing the root of the mistake, doing the required course corrections and learning from what happened,” says Ketan Kapoor, CEO and Co-Founder of Mettl.com, a talent measurement firm.
The most respected people are the ones who invest the time to become masters of their domain, and the only way to do that is to practice… a lot. Thomas Edison is reported to have once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
5. They hunt down solutions.
Every organization has problems, and most do not have a lack of people eager to point them out. A great way to build respect at work is to be a solution starter, says Shefali Raina, a New York City- based Executive coach.
“When you see a problem in your domain, collaborate with others to build a practical, workable solution, and then rally everybody and give energy to get it done,” Raina says. Getting things done by rallying others and energizing projects helps other people to see you as positive, credible and action oriented.
6. They respect their workplace as contributing to their career journey.
Millennials switch jobs more frequently than previous generations, says Raysha Clark, a licensed therapist and career coach who specializes in clients new to the workforce. While they may see this as no problem, the employers investing big bucks in their professional development can see things differently.
“New hires often have an amazing advantage in getting the latest and most up-to-date training in the organization,” she says. “Take the training with a sense of gratitude and find ways to use it to contribute to the greater good of your organization.”
Even if you see this job as merely a stepping stone, bring your entire self while you’re there. Just like any relationship, it takes two.
“Go into each position ready to be an asset, because a resume full of previous training means nothing if you don't exercise what you've learned," says Clark.
Danielle Wood is Associate Dean and Director of Career Catalysts at BEAM, Stanford Career Education. Career Catalysts is an incubator at Stanford working at the intersection of diversity, inclusion, and belonging. We encourage students to learn by doing and believe that students gain greater clarity about their future possibilities through a cycle of experimentation and reflection.