Why managers and workers need to respect each other

Respect is our starting point

Respect is one of the most important qualities we can have in business. We need to respect our clients. We need to have their respect by delivering quality service; the very best we can do and strive to be better than the rest in our field. We all know this. I have written about it once or twice.


Respect is important in the workplace too. I am not talking about forelock touching by employees towards their bosses. I am talking about mutual respect between employees and their bosses. That means communication between them.

All my yesterdays

Going back a while in my working life, I was a manager in a small firm which was taken over by a larger firm. I had two bosses. Neither had any respect for me. In their eyes I was a worker whom they didn’t want. They made assumptions about me. They assumed that because I didn’t have a large firm background I was not a capable manager. Not only that but they assumed that I did not know as much as their “own” staff about the technical issues of a job I had been doing for a long time.

These bosses didn’t give me a good run out with any difficult work so they were not likely to find out how good I was. I began to believe their stories, and when one client I was responsible for had a really difficult issue I had that client taken away. It was humiliating at the time. As I said, I even thought they might have been right, and it was not until I left and got another job which was really challenging that I realised just how good I was. And that was really good, though I say it myself.

I received no respect from my bosses. I was not the only employee who had no respect.

All I heard from my bosses was complaints that I was not making them enough money, but actually that was because they allowed me no decent clients and no decent work. They didn’t listen to me. I tried to speak to them but all I got was sarcasm and abuse from one and total indifference from the other. The only respect I received was from my own team, the people whom I supervised as a manager. And we were a team even though they suffered because I had no respect from above.

Managing is satisfying

I always enjoyed my time as a manager, and it was for the most part very rewarding. Management is about communication, and communication involves listening. To listen to someone we have to respect their opinion, and not to receive a dismissive answer such as “I hear what you are saying”, which, translated, means “I am not listening, I don’t respect your opinion, and you are bound to be wrong”.

Of course no one is perfect; even me, but I have always tried to listen. When I forgot once I was pulled up by a business friend, even if he didn’t realise. He reminded me how to help other business owners listen too.

I don’t think there is any way to manage a business except by:

  • Valuing our workers
  • Listening to what they have to say about their work
  • Having an atmosphere of mutual respect.

Your workers may think of a better way of doing things which can improve your business and make it more efficient. They turn out to be much better than you could have hoped for if you gave them their head. They may make a great contribution to improving profitability if you listen to them.

They will deserve greater reward if they do help your profits go up. It also starts with listening. And respect.

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Conversations make team work

As you may remember, I believe that there is a difference between hearing and listening. Listening is the bit where we actually take in what someone is saying rather than just appearing to be polite by giving them time.

Listening involves thinking about what we are hearing. It involves being aware of our surroundings. At work it involves knowing what is happening around us. It involves actual communication – a two-way process – rather than just hearing instructions. Listening is about joined-up teamwork, about getting things done.

Not listening and not communicating is when things go wrong. Not listening amounts to poor management. I see it in large companies who fail their customers. I see it in the public sector to do with planning, and in the UK National Health Service. If people don’t listen, or if workers don’t expect to be heard so they stay silent, things go wrong. Customers suffer. Patients in hospital and outside quite literally suffer. Yet the workers who are supposed to serve them have collectively all the knowledge they need to deliver the right service. They don’t talk, they don’t ask, and they DON’T LISTEN.

You and I know that we need to listen to each other. We need to listen to the people who work for us. Mostly we need to listen to our customers. I am sure you are listening, aren’t you?

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Hearing is not listening

One of the ways I like to relax after a day’s work or at weekends is to go for a walk. In common with many people, it helps me unwind and relax, and often I will have new ideas or know the solution to a problem I have been wrestling with. Sometimes I know the answer with such clarity that it seems obvious, and then I wonder why I had not thought of it before. Probably this is because once you know something it is just obvious to you.

When I am off on one of my walks, I do not think about work too much with my conscious mind. It is the subconscious which comes up with the ideas, but I do not worry if I do not get inspired. There is always another day and another walk.

What I do consciously when out is listen. It is fairly rural around where I live and I listen to the birds singing and calling, I listen to the trees and grass rustling, and to other background sounds such as a woodpecker hammering away. Of course I look also, and may see an interesting bird or a fox or a rabbit or a squirrel or two. The May blossom has been spectacular too, and well before the month of May and there is a new badger excavation only a hundred yards or so from home.

I always think it a shame that so many people out walking or jogging have their iPods or other music devices plugged in their ears. Not only are they missing the sounds of the country and surroundings, but somehow they do not seem to see either. Many almost walk or run into me with their concentration elsewhere, and they are missing (to my mind) the joy of their independent existence in a world full of life, of sound and of colour.

Sometimes it does not take too much adjustment to listen. If I have company on my walks (my best thinking is during solitary walks) I will say to a companion “Can you hear that bird calling or woodpecker drumming and isn’t that flower in the hedgerow pretty?” and then my friend (or my stepdaughter the other day) will notice, and then start listening and observing. That’s important, because the sounds are there all the time, but listening is the key to observing and learning, and I am happy to learn all the time.

I was at a networking meeting this morning, and though I have some reservations about the format, its USP is that it is very informal, though as with any networking group, one does need to be there every week. What I noticed today was that rather than everyone thinking about his or her one-minute sales message whilst others were giving theirs, there was comment and feedback. For once, attendees really were listening and learning from the others at the meeting, which is so often not the case. If we listen, we can help our fellow networkers find what they are looking for, and that is better than just saying when the opportunity arises “I know a bookkeeper or a builder or an insurance broker”. If you listen, you can learn and help others. If you just hear you are wasting your own and everyone else’s time.

© Jon Stow 2009

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