Everyone around you – colleagues, clients, and subordinates – wants to be treated with dignity. But it’s easy to come up short.
First, it’s important to understand what dignity is and not confuse it with something similar, respect. Donna Hicks, a conflict resolution specialist at Harvard University’s Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, says respect must be earned. Dignity is something we are born with – our inherent value and worth. “Dignity is something we all deserve, no matter what we do," she writes in Leading with Dignity.
She cites 10 temptations – flowing from our evolutionary biology – that encourage us to violate the dignity of others or act badly when our own dignity seems to be under assault. And how to resist them:
• Just because someone behaves badly is no reason for you to take the bait and act similarly. “Restraint is the better part of dignity. Don’t justify returning the harm when someone has harmed you. Do not do unto others as they do unto you,” she writes.
• Don’t lie, cover up or deceive yourself. Be truthful about what you have done in all situations.
• If you have violated the dignity or others, own up to it. Admit you have made a mistake and apologize.
• Be alert to your need for external recognition of your dignity through approval and praise. “If we depend only on others for validation of our worth, we are seeking false dignity,” she advises. “Our dignity also comes from within.”
• Don’t let your need for connection compromise your dignity. If someone routinely violates your dignity, that’s a relationship to jettison if at all possible.
• If someone violates your dignity, say something. It’s a signal that change is required in the relationship. Don’t avoid the confrontation.
• At the same time, be open to the possibility you may be contributing to the dignity violation without being aware of it.
• Don’t resist feedback from others. We all have blind spots – undignified ways in which we unconsciously behave.
• Don’t blame and shame others. Control the urge to defend yourself by trying to make others look bad.
• Beware of the tendency to connect with others through gossip. It may seem wise, building a bond through excited conversation, but in fact is harmful and undignified. “If you want to create intimacy with others, speak the truth about yourself – what is truly happening in your inner world – and invite the other person to do the same,” she says.
How to end common workplace conversations successfully
We often spend a lot of time considering how to enter workplace conversations – where to hold them and how to open the discussion. But Toronto communications consultant Judith Humphrey suggests we often botch the ending. That should include an “ask” – a call to action.
“Don’t assume your goals will be clear. You need to end every conversation (whether written or spoken) by spelling out the actions you want taken,” she writes in Fast Company.
Here’s how she suggests doing it in the four most common workplace conversations:
• Networking: This is our bread and butter conversation for getting ahead in business. Begin with a clear message and follow through to the ask. Her example is meeting an executive whose firm has advertised a job that you would love to have. Begin the conversation by stating your interests, move on to why you would be great in the post, and end: “I’d love to work in your company, and I’d be delighted if you could connect me with the department head who oversees this hire.”
• Corridor chat: Impromptu corridor chat can seem innocuous but at times is a make-or-break situation. If your boss passes you in the corridor, don’t let him slide by with a “how’s it going. Not bad” exchange. Aim for more. An example is when the boss has seen a recent presentation you gave. You can indicate you are very excited in the project but don’t leave it hanging there. “I’d like to talk with you about how we can bring more resources to this program. I have some ideas…. and would love to share them with you,” is an effective call to action, likely to lead to a suggestion you arrange a meeting.
• Sales call: Sales calls can be daunting and it’s easy to cherish simply having the conversation without pushing for more. In her own sales calls, if she felt the executive was ready to commit, she would say, “So when do we start?” That bold statement indicated her confidence. If she was less sure, she might assure the executive her program would make him or her the inspiring communicator they want to be. If on even shakier ground, she would say: “It’s been a great conversation. What’s our next step?” In all three cases, she was suggesting action without inviting a no.
• E-mail: Many emails outline a project plan and end with this weak conclusion: “If you have questions, do not hesitate to call me.” That fails her test because it introduces a negative and assumes your reader will have questions. Instead, try, “I’d like your approval to proceed,” or, “I will move forward with the project and keep you up to date on developments.” She insists: “You won’t get buy-in, unless you ask for it clearly and strongly. So build a strong call to action into each e-mail you send. Say what you want – a meeting, approval, funding, a commitment of some kind. Don’t be shy.”
Overall, she concludes, your “closing” should open doors and move you on to the next step.
Identifying workplace harassment
What exactly is workplace harassment? Deborah Hudson, a lawyer with Turnpenney Milne, sets out the following examples in a paper for the Queen’s University Industrial Relations Centre:
• demanding hugs,
• invading personal space,
• unnecessary physical contact, including unwanted touching,
• derogatory language and/or comments toward women (or men, depending on the circumstances), sex-specific derogatory names,
• leering or inappropriate staring,
• gender-related comment about a person’s physical characteristics or mannerisms,
• comments or conduct relating to a person’s perceived non-conformity with a sex-role stereotype,
• displaying or circulating pornography, sexual pictures or cartoons, sexually explicit graffiti, or other sexual images (including online),
• sexual jokes, including circulating written sexual jokes (for example by e-mail);
• rough and vulgar humour or language related to gender;
• sexual or gender-related comment or conduct used to bully a person;
• spreading sexual rumours (including online);
• suggestive or offensive remarks or innuendo about members of a specific gender;
• propositions of physical intimacy;
• gender-related verbal abuse, threats, or taunting;
• bragging about sexual prowess;
• demanding dates or sexual favours;
• questions or discussions about sexual activities;
• requiring an employee to dress in a sexualized or gender-specific way;
• paternalistic behaviour based on gender which a person feels undermines their status or position of responsibility;
• threats to penalize or otherwise punish a person who refuses to comply with sexual advances.
• If you want to go the “extra mile,” you still have to complete the first one, says consultant Alan Weiss.
• Body art is apparently no longer a workplace hurdle. New research found not only are the wages and annual earnings of tattooed employees in the United States statistically indistinguishable from the wages and annual earnings of employees without tattoos, but tattooed individuals are also just as likely, and in some instances even more likely, to gain employment.
• Billionaire global investor Ray Dalio advises quitting these four bad habits to succeed: Becoming overwhelmed with possibilities; confusing a goal with a desire; focusing on the wrong reward, the trappings of success rather than accomplishment; and not dreaming big enough.
• When you join a new organization you have a short time to adapt to its culture. One important step is to figure out whether there is a bias for action or a bias for analysis and consensus.
• What three words describe the workplace legacy you want to leave, asks consultant Michael Kerr.
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