In the words of Otis Redding and immortalized by the late great Queen of soul, Aretha Franklin, “All I’m asking for is a little respect”. Imagine how different the workplace would be if everyone communicated and led from a place of respect. Now, just imagine, if the whole world adopted that approach. Wow, right? This is exactly how leaders can make a difference. Maybe you can’t change the whole world, but you can sure change your little piece of it.

Respect is like a blank slate. 

Being respectful means you come to a discussion without preconceived ideas. You keep an open mind. You become aware of your personal and systemic biases, and those of your organization. You approach others with a view to learning their perspective — and that doesn’t mean you necessarily agree with it. It means that you genuinely listen, strive to understand why someone might feel the way they do, and you build bridges of understanding where possible.

Respect looks different to different people. 

What you consider disrespectful, another person may not, and right there is the rub. Culture, upbringing, customs, education, and many more factors play into what buttons you have available to push. However, there are some universal principles that will guide you.

The Google dictionary defines “respect” as follows:


1. admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements
2. have due regard for (someone’s feelings, wishes, or rights)

You can move this definition to action to build respect. 


The first part of it, “to admire … abilities, qualities, achievements” is a way to respect someone you might not naturally be drawn to. Instead of judging, challenge yourself to identify that person’s unique gifts. What is it he/she/they have done that was difficult or required a certain personality type, skill set, or knowledge? Doing this exercise prompts you to step out of the judgment zone and to genuinely admire something about that person. This is how you begin to build a relationship on respect.

(PS: This is one of the reasons I LOVE doing sessions on personality and communication types. Clients have “aha” moments in recognizing how their strengths may be the very thing that rubs others the wrong way, and vice versa. They then learn how to build bridges between the types). 


The second part of this definition is having “due regard for someone’s feelings, wishes, or rights”. This can be a little trickier to get your head around because it can have a lot of grey area. You want to nurture respectful behaviour in the workplace and may often grapple with knowing if it is best to speak up or not when something is bothering you. There is seldom an easy answer as each situation is so unique. However, here are a few questions that will help you decide if it’s time to speak up or best to walk away. Both of these options can manifest themselves respectfully.

These clarity questions to guide you in speaking up or not (while maintaining respect):

1) Are someone else’s actions infringing on your rights?
2) Is it more painful for you to remain silent or to speak up?
3) Will asserting yourself (speaking up respectfully) make a positive difference to you and/or others?

It’s up to you.

Building a respectful workplace involves many, multiple people, and a willingness on leadership’s part to set an example and demand no less.

Next time you hear Aretha belting out that tune, let it be a reminder of what you can do to build a healthy and respectful team and workplace. 

©2022 Marion Grobb Finkelstein (MarionSpeaks)

Marion Grobb Finkelstein
Keynote Speaker / Corporate Trainer / Author
Recipient of APEX “Award for Leadership in Service Innovation” 
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Leadership communication expert, Marion Grobb Finkelstein shows leaders at any level how to build resilient and respectful workplaces by changing how they communicate. Chat with her at or and sign up for her FREE “Marion’s Communication Tips” at

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Marion Grobb Finkelstein

Marion Grobb Finkelstein helps leaders use their natural communication strengths to build resilient teams that talk.

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