People in the workplace are a lot like families – there's always at least one person who is disrespectful. In the heat of battle, when deadlines are looming and the pace gets hectic, it's easy for tempers to flare. Take the time to get to know your employees and make opportunities for them to get to know each other better. Good communication will help promote respect and eliminate misunderstandings.
Make Your Expectations Clear
You can't blame a subordinate for acting inappropriately if you didn't define your expectations. Make sure everyone understands the rights and responsibilities of the other team members. Tell your staff you expect them to act with professionalism, even when they disagree. State clearly that you will not tolerate harassment in any form, even if it's presented as a joke. If your company has an employee code of conduct, make sure all your subordinates receive a copy.
Lead by Example
The best way to make clear how you want your employees to behave is to provide a good model in your own behavior. Treat all members of your team with equal respect and encourage discussion of differences in ethnic origin, gender, regional upbringing and personal style. Point out how these differing perspectives add richness and value to brainstorming and problem solving. Rewarding good behavior is an excellent way to show employees what you expect of them.
Some companies offer – or require – training in harassment prevention and/or diversity. If it's not mandatory per company policy, tell your subordinates you expect them to take this training. As new employees come on board, meet with them individually or in groups for orientation, and use this opportunity to state your expectation of professionalism and respect toward coworkers. If you are a middle manager with supervisors who report to you, make sure they attend training in conflict resolution and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) responsibilities.
Despite your best efforts, sooner or later someone on your team will engage in disrespectful behavior. Don't let it slide because it sends the message that you're not really serious about respect. If the incident happens in front of you, intervene and tell the guilty party that this behavior is not acceptable, then make sure the conversation gets back on track. If it comes to your attention after the fact, call the perpetrator into your office, state clearly that this behavior is not acceptable and make him apologize to the coworker he offended. You can use a variety of tools to ensure compliance, such as withholding business travel, taking away a lead position in a presentation or, in an extreme case, a letter of reprimand to the employee's personnel file.
A retired federal senior executive currently working as a management consultant and communications expert, Mary Bauer has written and edited for senior U.S. government audiences, including the White House, since 1984. She holds a Master of Arts in French from George Mason University and a Bachelor of Arts in English, French and international relations from Aquinas College.