The Common Denominator of Good Ethics…Respect!


Honest, hard-working, friendly people are hot commodities in the workplace. With luck and good recruiting, these people may just walk in the door, and in any event, employers do all kinds of things to promote wholesome values within their workforce.

But these values are matters of the heart and not simply vocational skills to be passed on through a global ethics training manual. The breakthrough comes by focusing attention on a common value that runs through all these traits: respect. Here’s where ethics comes in. Almost every employee trains in some aspect of ethics at work. Ethics and respect go hand-in-hand and must be connected in employee training. By teaching one, you teach them both. Approach ethics from a respect angle. It promotes an intrinsic understanding of ethics from the inside out.

Take any workplace ethical problem and connect the dots to see the principles of respect behind the issue. For example, by adding a respect perspective to employee theft and lying, all the traditional landmines of rationalization, gray areas, and emotion melts away. In analyzing ethical problems, consider the following keys to respect.

Honesty: Honesty is more than a feeling. It’s a real-world indicator of one’s respectfulness. Speaking the truth shows respect for others. Playing by the rules shows respect for institutions that create rules and the other players involved. Honesty with yourself demonstrates self-respect as you adhere to your deeply held moral and ethical principles. To better understand this, take an annoying ethical gray area with which you struggle and ask some tough questions about how your actions demonstrate respect.

Honor: Respect equals honor. The words are often used interchangeably. The act of showing honor is a tangible way we demonstrate respect. The key to honoring others is to see the human side of coworkers and customers. Understand where they’re coming from and elevate your interactions from the superficial to the meaningful. Honoring coworkers means that you care for others’ feelings and well-being. Honoring supervisors means that you respect their judgments and treat them with respect even if you don’t agree. In your ethics, you honor rules and codes by your actions.

Self-Respect: As the term implies, self-respect is your ability to look inwardly to respect what’s there. You can always spot people with low self-respect by seeing how they respect their own standards of right and wrong. Do they stick to their principles? Do they have character or are they empty suits? Do they have a set of core values that actually mean something? Self-respect demonstrates strength of character that will surface with sound ethical choices and confidence.

Humility: Arrogant people are ethical problems waiting to happen. Without a sense of humility, respect is just “being nice”, on limited terms. To a selfish person, when his or her personal needs outweigh those of the organization, anything goes. Contrary to common belief, humility is not a sign of weakness but an indication of strength and security. It is absolutely essential for effective leadership. Look at the high profile corporate scandals in recent years and you will see the fruits of arrogance and self-centeredness.

Good Manners: Oftentimes, little things matter the most. The rubber meets the road with those hundreds of daily opportunities you have to show respect to others. The real face of respect is in a smile, kind word, and common courtesies. It may only be external yet it’s absolutely essential. Show people respect by learning their names, acknowledging them in the hallway, holding a door open, and making them feel comfortable.

Practicing Respect: The key to maintaining any desired character trait is to practice it. Respect must be practiced so that it will be an ingrained part of your character. It may seem hard, or even out of character at first, but eventually, you will learn, grow, and build confidence. By working at it today, showing respect will get easier as time passes.

It’s no secret that respect will get you far in life. It makes the good times better and provides much-needed leverage in the bad times. Don’t let your discussions of workplace ethics be limited only to outward behaviors but include attitudes of the heart and mind as well.