Like financial security, friends and the occasional freebie, respect is something every one of us desires. But there are no instructions for assembling it. And probably no online correspondence courses either.
But we may not need them after all. Eliciting respect from others is a responsibility that lies squarely on our shoulders. As cheesy as it sounds, we truly teach people how to treat us. So, it’s up to us to ensure that others take us, our work, our opinions and our reputation seriously. The simple truth is that, to get respect, you have to give respect – to yourself, and to others. That means, one: projecting a persona that proclaims to the world that you think well of yourself. And, two: treating others the way you’d like to be treated. Arrogance and power may get you deference and obeisance. But that is not respect. It is appeasement prompted solely by self-interest and fear.
So, here’s how to command – not demand – respect.
Stop being a people pleaser. Being easygoing is one thing. Being a doormat is another. Check out where exactly you fall. Do you find that you are, all too often:
» sacrificing your needs to those of the other person(s)
» expressing no preferences (for both, small things and values)
» pretending to go along with whatever the other person likes or decides, even when every fibre of your being is crying out, “No”!
» never offering suggestions or alternatives
» hearing this “compliment” far too many times: ‘(S)he’s such a nice person’
At the level of ground realities, being Mr Nice Guy translates into being ever-ready to do things for others, continually taking on tasks that others should rightly be doing, even making personal and professional sacrifices just to make others happy.
All the above behaviours are red flags, for sure. They make it difficult for others to respect you. You yourself will (often at the unconscious level), resent the one-sided power equation in the relationship. When you’re not being heard, not being validated, not being recognized for your skills, when opportunities pass you by because you’re seen as not being assertive enough, it can create a dissonance in your psyche. You’ll feel “used”, and that your niceness is being abused, because that is exactly what’s happening. Eventually, it may cause you to display passive-aggressive behaviour, or even half-hearted disengagement from the relationship.
Generally, this kind of overt, endless niceness arises from a need to be liked by others, which goes hand-in-hand with a fear of offending others. But no one can be happy or fulfil his or her full potential when subjected to disrespect all the time. That is why this surfeit of “niceness” has got to go. It’s time to put in place a new attitude. You can be easygoing and still have spine and stick to your guns when it really matters to you. That is what self-respect is all about.
» Start by asking yourself: “Is my need to be nice truly serving my goals, making me happy – or is it making my life a living nightmare?”
» Stop the conflict between what you want to do in your life and what you actually get stuck doing for others. Continue to give respect to others, but do not offer submissiveness. Instead, start practising assertiveness. For instance, try this the next time a colleague at work asks you to do one of his tasks. Let him know you have a lot on your plate already, and that when you get your own tasks completed, and if you have the time, you can help. Otherwise, suggest there may be someone else who can help him out sooner this time.
» Take the time to care for your needs, nurture yourself, be nice to yourself. Join a course that could lead to career advancement, or simply one that will boost your self-esteem (say, learning a new language). Take up a hobby. It will build new skills and that will again boost your confidence.
The go-along-to-get-along mindset is a coping mechanism, perhaps coming from a past in which you were around a dominating parent, or even a downright abusive adult. If so, then this is an area that you need to work on – if necessary, with the help of a therapist. Do not clutch the past so tightly to your chest that it leaves your arms too full to embrace the present and the future.
Apart from training yourself to say ‘no’ when the answer is ‘no’, there are other steps you can take to project assertiveness and gain the respect of others. Here are some of the most important:
Put body language to work for you. You’ve heard it often enough by now: your body language says more than the words coming out of your mouth. It’s solid advice. The right body language is the flag-bearer of a confident person – someone who deserves respect and attention. So...
Walk tall, walk straight. And, as the old song says, “Look the world right in the eye.” An averted gaze can signal deference and nervousness. On the other hand, eye contact should not translate into an intense, unwavering stare. That can come across as hostile or even creepy. The general recommendation is: steady, consistent eye contact combined with well-timed breaks. That is, hold eye contact for a few seconds before glancing away for a few seconds. Then make eye contact again.
Important: eye contact doesn’t mean directly gazing into someone’s eyes. Instead, it is defined as making contact in the area of the “eye-nose triangle” – i.e., the inverted triangle formed by the two eyes and the nose. You should be “keeping in touch” with this general area for about two-thirds of the time.
Sit straight, too. There’s nothing that so instantly deflates you in others’ eyes as a slouch or a slump. But don’t sit ramrod straight, you’ll appear to be stiff and nervous. And don’t lean forward as if you’re hanging on to every word of the other person. Also, avoid keeping your hands stiffly crossed over your chest or (if you’re sitting) tightly-held in your lap – these signify nervousness and / or self-effacement.
Eliminate nervous tics. Playing with your tie or a bracelet, tapping your notepad with a pen, or jiggling your foot are all giveaways that say you’re anxious and lack self-control.
Speak clearly. People who mumble get undervalued (unless they’re the Godfather). Clarity and articulation command respect. If you can’t be heard or understood, you won’t be respected.
Let your voice be assertive, but not aggressive. An assertive voice elicits respect whereas an aggressive one induces fear. Assertive is polite but assured: there’s a certain sound to it that says, “I don’t have to shout because I know you’re listening.” On the other hand, when you speak aggressively, you get yappy, talk louder and faster, and interrupt. You’re trying to force the other person to respect you.
Always be well-groomed. It’s not about primping and preening. It’s not about vanity or being narcissistic. But when you know you’re well-groomed, you feel good about yourself. It gives you that extra edge of confidence – and never under-estimate its power. Being well-groomed says you’ve got self-respect, are disciplined and pay attention to detail.
For all those out there whose mantra is, “People can take me as I am”, the ground reality is that dirty finger-nails, smelly sneakers or dandruff on your shoulders are instant downers on the respect scale. Poor personal hygiene and grooming show unconcern – a lack of respect for the people you are interfacing with, as well as for yourself. And that’s not calculated to get you their respect in turn.
Don’t deflect or reject a compliment. Instead, accept it gracefully. Far too many people find it difficult to accept praise. So, they downplay a compliment, saying something like, “Oh, it was really nothing.” If you did something praiseworthy, it does not amount to nothing. But if you brush it off as if it’s not worthy of any notice, you are belittling yourself. If you don’t respect yourself, how can you expect others to respect you? Why not acknowledge a compliment with grace and poise, and a simple statement like, “Thanks so much. I really worked hard on that.”
Avoid negative lead-ins. “I’m not sure this will work, but...” Or even, “This may sound stupid, but...” We hear these kind of qualifiers all the time. It is what people use to protect their egos against possible rejection. But when you preface your ideas and suggestions with these kind of negatives, you’re signalling a lack of faith in yourself. It’s almost like an advance warning to others that what you’re saying is not deserving of their attention. The outcome, all too often, is that others will buy into your message that it is indeed a stupid idea. You should not be surprised then if it does not elicit much enthusiasm or even attention.
People who command respect avoid such qualifiers. Instead, they put their ideas out there and then handle the feedback. Their ideas get serious attention because they have communicated that those ideas merit serious attention.
Practise positive affirmations. These, repeated to yourself from time to time, will help you to feel good about yourself. Here are four examples:
I am a unique child of this world.
I have as much to offer the world as the next person.
I matter, and what I have to offer this world also matters.
I may be one in 7.5 billion but I am also one in 7.5 billion.
Get your entitlements. Sometimes, it takes assertive action to get what you’re entitled to. It may mean going over the head of an immediate supervisor at work. Or getting grievance redressal from a manufacturer. Or even taking your case to a consumer court. But when you do get redressal, you also get a confidence boost that enhances your self-respect.
Jealously guard your integrity. Integrity is a quality that is hard to define. But we can all go along with the finger-snap guideline offered by the late Potter Stewart (an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court) who said: “I know it when I see it.”
We also know it when we see it. And we lose respect for someone who’s lacking in it. Especially when it’s someone we have held in high regard before. The celebrated journalist-cum-intellectual, Fareed Zakaria, flubbed it when he stood exposed in over a dozen instances of serial plagiarism. Vijay Mallya has evidently lost it several times over. Most recently, the professional integrity of Justin Bieber came under a cloud when, instead of singing at a Mumbai concert where his fans had paid from Rs 4000+ to Rs 76,000+ for a ticket, he lip synced his way through the songs (and, what’s more, “his lips were out of sync”, as one tweeter noted). He disrespected his audience by fobbing them off with something they could have got sitting at home listening to a DVD, instead of giving them the voice, the passion and the thrills they expected for their money. Several tweets and first-hand reports on the Net reflected the anger and loss of respect that Bieber’s fans felt for him.
But it is not only in the celebrity roster that we see how integrity is regularly undermined. We see it in hundreds of examples in our daily lives: the employee who calls in “sick” to the office just because he’s out of casual leave and wants to get some festival shopping done; the customer who realizes the vendor has given her extra change but decides to keep it anyway; doctors who regularly keep a roomful of people waiting well past their appointment times – and never ever think of apologizing. It’s in the so-called “small things”, too – like throwing chocolate wrappers out of the car window, dumping grocery items back on a mall shelf they didn’t come from, fobbing off a torn note to someone under cover of the darkness of the night.
Integrity derives from the Latin word for “soundness, wholeness, completeness”. Ethics is, of course, a critical part of it. But there is more to it than that, Integrity encompasses a number of different attributes, including:
» Clarity about values, beliefs and principles.
» Constancy – being faithful to commitments and promises. This ties in with consistency in actions.
» Courage in making the right choice, even though it may be the difficult choice and the outcome could be painful or unpopular.
» Doing the right thing at all times, whether anyone is watching or not.
It takes years to build a reputation for integrity, and along with that reputation comes the respect of others. But it can take only seconds to lose.
The second part of getting respect from others is respecting others. This may seem obvious and simple, but if these simple elements don’t fall in place, you’ll find it hard to coax a high opinion about yourself from people. Some ways of ensuring you respect others:
Listen – genuinely listen – to the other person instead of thinking of what you’re going to say next. When a person knows he is being heard, he tends to not only respect the other person but also to like him.
Listening is not “hearing”. Hearing is a passive process – sounds waft into our ears and we may pay attention to them or we may not. But listening is active: we need to concentrate, comprehend and evaluate. Listening may also mean reading between the lines, trying to understand what the other person is really trying to communicate beyond the words (sometimes with her body language), and letting her know that the unspoken message has been received and understood.
Never demean another person. Certain words (like “Stupid” “Fool” and “Idiot”) should simply be eschewed from your vocabulary of interaction. So, too, profanity and obscenity: you don’t need four-letter words to make your point.
Apologize when you’re in the wrong. If you have hurt someone’s feelings with thoughtless words or an unkind act, if in any other way you have been in the wrong, then it is not a sign of weakness but a mark of maturity to express regret. It is a recognition of your flaws, it shows you have enough faith in yourself to admit you were wrong. This includes apologizing to your children when you’ve spoken insensitively or inflicted too harsh a punishment on them; and your child will respect you for having the courage and the decency to say you’re sorry.
Give the other person space. This is one of those rules of respect that is all too often overlooked in intimate relationships particularly. Some partners may hold a double standard – they're unwilling to allow the other person what they require for themselves (such as other interests, friends, and freedom).
Other ways to ensure you’re respecting others: Don’t miss deadlines. Show up on time. Follow through on promises. Make sure all your work is high quality. Present yourself in a way that's courteous, professional and polished – including on your social-media pages.
Whether you’re 18 or 80, the ball is completely in your court when it comes to being respected.
(The author is a former editor of 'Health & Nutrition' magazine, and now works as a counseling therapist)