the Respectful Workplace: 10 Tips to Boost Productivity and
See Content Chapters Online Below
1. Dignifying the Differences in Others
2. Avoiding Sexual Harassment
3. Stifling Rumors and Foregoing Gossip
4. Voicing Concerns and Opinions Diplomatically
5. Nonverbal Workplace Communication Nixes Morale
6. Rejecting Bullying and Ridicule
7. Excuse me! Respecting Others' Space
8. Restraining Impulsive Behavior on the Job
9. Criticize in Private (If You Must)
10. Cut the noise! Distractions in the Modern Office
Content from the First Five Chapters of the Respectful in the Workplace PowerPoint,
DVD, Web Course (You own), or Video for Web Use (MP4)
Chapter One: Dignify Differences in People
It’s easy to respect co-workers who are a mirror image of
you. If they share your background, ethnicity and attitudes, you may develop an
instant affinity for them.
The challenge comes when you work with people who are not like you—at least on
the surface. Whether they wear different kinds of clothes or speak in thick
accents, you may allow your biases to interfere and draw certain conclusions as
The cornerstone of a respectful workplace is tolerance. Colleagues accept
differences in each other rather than fear them. They look past skin color,
religion and other factors in an effort to get to know the actual person.
Some people fail to overcome their negative first impressions of others. These
initial judgments, often based on one’s prejudices or preconceived notions, can
cloud our ability to treat everyone with dignity, fairness and open-mindedness.
To build bonds with diverse co-workers:
Listen for understanding, not agreement. Look past differences in opinion or
outlook; instead, focus on understanding a colleague’s views and perspective.
Listen with the goal of appreciating how others see the world. Avoid the trap
of tuning out simply because someone makes a comment that you deem incorrect.
Probe to learn why the speaker thinks that way.
Avoid labels. Monitor your speech patters—and thinking style—to check whether
you label people. Beware of adopting the “Jess is a X and all Xs are like that”
mentality. A label carries a series of false assumptions that breed
stereotypes. What begins as seemingly harmless labeling can degenerate into
dismissive and derogatory remarks.
TIP: If you disagree with someone’s views, react with
curiosity rather than defensiveness. Ask at least one earnest, non-threatening
question to dig for more information. Be willing to change your mind if the
facts warrant it.
IT’S TRUE: George Kelly (1905-1967), a personality
psychologist, found that we tend to perceive people through constructs
(tall-short, slim-pudgy, etc.). If we meet a short, pudgy individual, for
example, it can subconsciously trigger unfair impressions such as “lazy” and
“sloppy.” Withhold judgment as much as possible and you’ll expand your frame of
TRUE OR FALSE: If you hear a joke that could be hurtful to
others, you should speak up.
[TRUE: It’s your responsibility to reject offensive jokes.
If you don’t voice your objection right away, your silence implies consent.
Permitting cruel jokes—even once--breeds a less tolerant, more divisive
TIP 2: Avoid Sexual Harassment (Respect in the Workplace PowerPoint)
Sexual harassment consists of unwelcome sexual advances or
behaviors that create an intimidating, hostile or offensive working
environment. Examples range from repeated offensive jokes to displays or
discussions of pornography to outright sexual assault. Any conduct of a sexual
nature that makes an employee uncomfortable may qualify as sexual harassment.
With such a broad legal definition, sexual harassment can
take many forms. Pinching, fondling or other harassing physical contact clearly
crosses the line. But your words can prove equally inappropriate, especially if
you speak in sexually explicit terms or demean an individual in sexist terms.
Crude actions such as posting sexually explicit stories or cartoons on a bulletin
board—or circulating email “jokes”—also fall under the definition.
Many employees think, “Oh, I’d never engage in sexual
harassment.” But it pays to understand what constitutes this kind of behavior
and review your employer’s policy in addressing it. Take these steps:
Check your employee handbook, read the policy and make sure
you understand it.
If your organization provides training sessions that cover
this topic, listen attentively. Cracking jokes or disrupting the proceedings in
other ways can undermine the seriousness of the subject matter and anger or
alienate your peers.
Alert your supervisor of any sexually explicit act that you
observe, even if you’re unsure if it qualifies as sexual harassment. Sharing
your concerns raises awareness—and that creates a more vigilant, respectful
workplace. Some organizations also provide a hotline to discuss such matters.
TIP: If you’re reluctant to report an incident—because
you’re unsure if it’s sexual harassment or you feel uncomfortable policing your
peers—overcome your doubt and speak up. Allowing even borderline sexual
harassment to go unchallenged (whether it happens to you or you observe it) can
make you feel upset, cynical and unmotivated. If you prefer not to go directly
to your supervisor, contact the EAP.
IT’S TRUE: Sexual harassment is prohibited by federal and
state laws. The Civil Rights Act is the primary federal law that applies, and
each state has its own law as well. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (EEOC) enforces federal laws.
TRUE OR FALSE: Legally, sexual harassment requires that men
sexually harass women.
[FALSE: Women can sexually harass men, although women report
most sexual harassment claims against men. What’s more, people of the same sex
can engage in this kind of harassment. This can happen when, say, a married
man’s colleagues repeatedly tell sexually explicit jokes that he finds
TIP 3 Stifle rumors and forgo gossip
Office gossip can range from harmless chitchat about a
colleague’s experiences coaching Little League to mean-spirited remarks about
an individual’s alleged drug habit. Left unchecked, gossip can feed rumors that
contribute to a distrustful and conflict-ridden workplace.
In addition to gossiping about one’s personal life,
employees often whisper about work-related rumors that typically focus on
layoffs, relocations and other potentially big news. Murmurs about such serious
developments can prove so distracting that performance plummets.
Through your actions, you can create an environment that
shuts down malicious gossip. It’s not enough to rise above it. You need to go a
step further and stop it in its tracks. When you hear others spreading rumors,
Lecturing others rarely works; they may resent your policing
their behavior. A better tactic is to redirect them with friendly questions or
comments such as “Can we talk about something important—like where we’re going
for lunch?” or “That reminds me of something funny…” The one exception is when
the gossip is so malicious that you must confront it by saying, “That sounds
like a rumor to me” and walk away.
If the rumor involves the head of the marketing department,
depersonalize the conversation by asking a related question such as, “Speaking
of marketing, what do you think of our company’s advertising campaign?” Look
for openings to shift the discussion to more substantive issues and you will
foster trust and teamwork.
TIP: If you’re privy to sensitive information, rehearse with
your supervisor how (and if) you should communicate it to others. Then stay “on
message” so that you consistently state the same point using the same language.
This works better than improvising each time and possibly revealing too much or
making a misstatement.
IT’S TRUE: While managers can take steps to prevent rumors
by opening lines of communication with all employees, the ultimate
responsibility lies with you. You can quell gossip by leaving the room or
changing the subject.
TRUE OR FALSE: It’s okay to engage in gossip if you ask
yourself, “Would I be willing to tell this face-to-face to the person I’m
[FALSE: That’s like looking for an excuse to indulge in
gossip! The moment you give yourself permission to talk about others behind
their back, there’s no guarantee that you’ll stick with positive,
non-threatening observations about them. It’s more likely that you will
eventually say something that would prove hurtful to that person.]
TIP 4 State concerns and opinions diplomatically
Whenever you volunteer your opinions or concerns, you take a
risk. If you speak respectfully and tactfully, others may appreciate your tone
and heed your views. But if you preach or pontificate—telling people what they
“should” do—they may chafe at your remarks.
Your intelligence can actually work against you when trying
to state opinions like a diplomat. If you think you’re smarter than others, you
may share well-intentioned insights in an effort to help them understand how to
solve a problem. Yet they may perceive you as a know-it-all or worse—triggering
ill will that harms your workplace relationships.
Ensure that you only raise reasonable concerns and
insightful opinions. Follow these tips:
Establish a give-and-take conversational rhythm. Rather than
spout your ideas, ask lots of questions so that others do most of the talking.
Listen attentively and show interest in how they arrived at their conclusions.
If you do a good job engaging others, they will usually come around to asking
what you think or believe.
Ideally, it’s better to wait for an invitation to share your
concerns rather than jump in with unsolicited opinions.
Give an overview of your evidence or support. When stating
your concerns, cite your support or justification in a one-sentence overview.
Example: “Based on three instances in which we lost a potential customer, I’m
concerned that our sales pitch isn’t working very well.”
Numbering your strands of evidence alerts others that you
can back up your claim. If they wish to learn more, they can ask you to explain
the three points in detail.
Be brief. It’s a thin line between giving opinions and
holding court. If you talk too much, you can drive away potential allies.
TIP: Speak in a positive tone without attacking those with
differing perspectives. A safe way to preface a controversial comment is to
say, “Reasonable people can disagree, but my take is…” This way, you avoid
lacing your concerns with criticisms of others.
IT’S TRUE: Validate what people say and they’ll listen more
actively to your suggestions. By building on what you hear, you make your
concern or opinion stand out. Quote others whenever possible before giving your
views. Example: You said you’d like to streamline this process. I agree. Here’s
a way to do that.”
TRUE OR FALSE: When you share an opinion, you should always
be ready to support it.
[TRUE: Opinions carry more weight when they’re accompanied
with backup in the form of evidence, statistics or personal experience. You
don’t need to bring up all your evidence right away. But if others ask for it,
you’ll strengthen your case by citing reliable, powerful support.]
TIP 5 Exhibit Appropriate Nonverbal Cues
Sometimes what you don’t say conveys more than what you do
say. A single gesture or facial expression can send a loud and clear message.
That’s why, even if you speak respectfully, sloppy or
hostile body language can work against you. Saying, “I think you’re making a
good point” while rolling your eyes and shaking your head in disapproval will
sow seeds of doubt and distrust. People will more readily believe what they see
you do than what they hear you say.
Adopt a listening posture that communicates your openness
and curiosity. Keep your hands at your sides, rather than rubbing your scalp or
eyes. Avoid resting your head in your hands or folding your arms across your
chest like a drill sergeant.
Don’t doodle, twist a rubber band or glance repeatedly at
your computer screen while someone is talking to you. Maintain a neutral facial
expression, especially if you disagree. Beware of letting your negative
emotions (such as anger, dismay or fear) dictate your nonverbal conduct. You
may alienate people just by glaring at them or with a dismissive wave of your
The proper nonverbal response to a speaker can enhance your
ability to build rapport. Signal your interest with friendly eye contact, nods
of understanding and genuine looks of concern or surprise. Speakers confide
more frequently in listeners who seem actively engaged in the
TIP: Ask a trusted friend to observe you for a week and keep
a record of your body language. Then ask for a report. Having a supportive ally
give you feedback on your mannerisms and expressions can increase your
awareness of both appropriate and inappropriate nonverbal cues.
IT’S TRUE: If you’re impatient, you may keep bobbing your
head up and down while someone speaks. Don’t overdo it. Research shows that
most people will interpret your first two or three head nods as genuine. After
that, your nodding can appear phony and make others feel patronized.
[DAN: This info on head nods is from page 72 of the book
Winning Moves by Ken Delmar (1984, Warner Books)]
TRUE OR FALSE: If you disagree, you should shake your head
while the person talks to show that you object.
[FALSE: Many speakers dislike addressing someone who’s
shaking their head back and forth. It’s distracting and polarizing. A better
approach is to keep still while you listen. When it’s your turn to respond, you
can politely raise your concern.]