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Treat Everyone At Work With Respect

It’s been a while since I’ve written about career, I think we fired off both barrels during Career Week 2009 [3] last year. However, with the economy recovering and a new jobs bill [4], I wanted to discuss something that falls under the category of “obvious but clearly not obvious enough.”

You should treat the people that you work with, regardless of where they are in the “hierarchy,” with dignity and respect.

I used to work at a defense contractor that had a bit of an old fashioned corporate mentality. Besides the idea that promotion was mostly by tenure [5] (not always, but frequently), there was a prevailing attitude that the singular goal was completion of the mission and it didn’t matter how many heads you needed to knock to get that done. While I can appreciate the approach, when used sparingly during crunch time, too many people took that approach all the time. Your ability to demand, yell, and beat up other people was seen was an asset. All too often I heard “I don’t care if people like me, they just need to listen to me and do what I say.”

That might have worked for Don Draper on Mad Men, but it doesn’t work today. It may have worked when employees stayed at a company their entire career, but it has stopped being as effective today because of career mobility. In fact, it can have a negative impact on your career. Let me recount a story, told me by my friend Belle (not her real name):

Belle manages a small group in her company and from time to time she needs to make hiring decisions. The other day, she’s flipping through a stack of resumes when she finds a few qualified candidates that she wants to bring in. One of them, we’ll call her Tremaine, used to work with Belle’s friend, Ariel. Belle calls Ariel to ask about Tremaine, her qualifications, her personality, etc. Turns out that Tremaine, while a capable manager, was difficult to work with and quick to look down on people. Tremaine never got a phone call.

(Fans of Disney will probably recognize Belle and Ariel as famous Disney heroines, Tremaine was the wicked stepmother in Cinderella [6] so bonus points if you knew that)

Tremaine’s head-knocking attitude, while effective at the time, didn’t win her any friends and it certainly didn’t win her a phone call for a position she had all the skills on paper. In that particular role, people skills are crucial in motivating people to do good work. Tremaine’s approach was not going to work in that environment.

It’s just one data point but I think it illustrates a broader idea – that it doesn’t make sense to treat people poorly.