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How to Get the Respect You Deserve

If you think others aren't treating you with enough respect, you're in good company. Many believe that disrepectful behavior has increased dramatically over the last decade or two. What are the causes, and more importantly, what can you do to help stem the tide?

by Loren Ekroth, Ph.D.

Sometimes or often feel you're treated disrespectfully? Well, you're probably in the majority.

According to a national study done 10 years ago (Bozell Worldwide/U.S. News & World Report, Civility in America Study 1999:

  • 79 percent said lack of respect is a serious problem

  • 60 percent said rude and selfish behavior is increasing

  • 88 percent sometimes encountered rude people

  • 77 percent see clerks ignoring customers

  • 56 percent are bothered by foul language

...And that study was done 10 years ago. Many, I among them, believe disrespectful behavior has increased since 1999.

What has changed?

Why have these changes happened in a few decades? I am not a sociologist, but I'd suggest these influences:

  • Single-parent families, greatly increased in the past half-century. It's very difficult to instill good values and behaviors with only one beleaguered parent.

  • Major media, including "tough-guy" language as in gangsta-rap and yelling contests masquerading as debate on main-stream TV. Humans learn most of their behaviors by modeling - imitating others.

  • Clash of cultures and surge in population across the land.

  • Stress factors stemming from unemployment, poverty, and wide-spread anxiety.

There are certainly other factors, but the above seem likely.

Current social realities


Although it is sometimes satisfying to think of the "good old days" of my youth, a time when chewing gum or whispering in a classroom might get you a visit with the principal and a phone call to your parents, or when talking back to your mother would get you into serious trouble with your father, I must deal with the present social realities as they are. The realities I see include, among others:

  • People's pushing ahead in lines at sporting events, concerts, and store sales.

  • Kids yelling at parents and parents yelling at kids in supermarkets.

  • An increase in "casual" profanity by kids, teens, and grown-ups.

  • Decrease in civility when people discuss controversial issues. Like name-calling.

  • Unruly students at most grade levels, so report by my experienced teacher friends.

  • Increasing encounters with aggressive drivers and road rage.

  • So what can we do about it?

    What are we to do? Some ideas:

    1. Be a model of civil, respectful behavior. "Do unto others . . . with the kind of behavior you want from them." (This is especially relevant to parents raising children, because children will almost certainly copy the behavior of parents.)

    2. Sever ties with acquaintances who don't treat you respectfully. For example, If they continue to use profanity even though you asked them not to.

    3. Refuse to tolerate disrespectful behavior by your spouse or children. Point out how their behaviors affect you. Ask that they stop. If they continue, seek professional support for the whole family. (marriage/family counseling.)

    4. In the workplace, inform co-workers if they're breaking policies or the law, for example, with sexist or racist comments, or with profanity. If they continue, file a complaint with the appropriate manager.

    So that I don't seem like a Pollyanna, please understand that I know there are subcultures in our society where "rough treatment" like verbal bullying is accepted as standard and usual. Years ago, I worked in some of those, including the ore boats on the Great Lakes and building an oil pipeline with roughnecks. If I wanted the temporary job, I adapted and put up with tough and dirty verbiage. It wasn't such a big deal.

    But in otherwise "civil" society, including those places where I am a customer or a guest, I expect an absence of rudeness from clerks, waiters, and even fellow customers. I expect the behavior at the DMV to be civil, I expect the post office clerks to be polite, and I expect waiters to be friendly.

    The positive results you can get from respectful and appreciative interpersonal behavior don't seem to be well known to many. In her book, The Power of Respect Deborah Norville explains how to benefit from "the most forgotten element of success." In her books like Care Packages for Your Customers and Handle with Care (about treating employees respectfully), Barbara Glanz demonstrates that caring and respect are good for business.

    If you are finding that, like Rodney Dangerfield, you, too, "don't get no respect," you might wish to do a bit of reading to increase your skills in handling rude people. Among the best recent books I have examined are The Civility Solution: What to Do When People Are Rude, by P.M. Forni (2008). The author poses dozens of typical problem situations, then offers appropriate solutions. If you're concerned about your own children's rude behaviors, find good advice in Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World, by Jill Rigby (2006)

    Loren Ekroth 2009, All rights reserved

    Loren Ekroth, Ph.D. is a specialist in human communication and a national expert on conversation for business and social life. His articles and programs strengthen critical communication skills for business and professional people. Contact Loren at Loren@conversation-matters.com. Check out a wealth of valuable resources and articles at http://www.conversation-matters.com and subscribe to his weekly free Better Conversations ezine (which also entitles you to two very informative reports).

    Some Related Articles:

    How to Deal With a Bully
    Got No Respect? Try this Unusual Approach!
    Are Rude People Irritating You?


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