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  • Writer's pictureRobin Rosenberg

Leading a Respectful Work Environment

Updated: Sep 15, 2021

For a respectful work environment, leaders need to be able to intervene and coach. In a respectful and inclusive workplace (whether that’s in-office or virtual), leaders hold themselves and their behavior to a higher standard than the rest of their working group. Leaders should model the desired behavior. They should intervene and coach when they see others being uncivil or disrespectful, even when that behavior is unintentional. That means leaders need to keep their eyes open.

Setting Examples and Expectations

We learn, in part, by observing others, what they do, and what happens afterward. If we see a colleague’s team miss a deadline and nothing untoward happens, we “learn” that maybe “deadlines” are mere suggestions. Alternatively, if the head of that team is fired when the team misses a deadline, we learn to take deadlines very seriously. We don’t have to experience it ourselves to learn.

It’s the same for your working group. People notice how leaders respond, or don’t respond, to what folks say, do, don’t say, and don’t do. So, if you are a leader and someone in your working group is disrespectful to a colleague, a customer, or a partner, don’t look the other way.

If you don’t intervene in these situations, you send a message that such behavior is okay. It’s not just the offender who gets that message. It’s everyone who saw it or heard about it. Suppose during a team meeting, Betty interrupts Cal a number of times and you don’t say or do anything about that. Betty doesn’t get the feedback she needs to change her behavior, and everyone else in the meeting learns that interrupting is okay.

How to Intervene

Of course, intervening in a group context is complicated. Should you say something in front of others or wait to talk to the person privately? The answer depends on the context, your already-established guidelines and norms, and the people involved.

There’s nuance involved here. An advantage of speaking privately to the person afterward is that it’s a conversation—and it’s private. The disadvantage is that others see that interrupting is okay—that you’re not trying to stop it. They learn from what they observe.

To intervene in front of the group, however, may require more finesse. It is important to recognize the behavior while also respecting Betty and not shaming her. An example might be, “Betty, we appreciate your enthusiasm for the topic. Let’s hear more from Cal first so we can better understand his view.” Then, you may want to talk to Betty afterward for more detailed feedback and coaching.

Leading a team in the modern workplace, especially with the rise of hybrid and remote workforces, offers a unique set of challenges. Programs like these can help leaders create and lead inclusive, respectful teams—whether employees are in office, remote, or a hybrid model.


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