I recently found myself chatting with a group of young professionals at the start of their careers. As I’m sure it does for many people, it reminded me of a time when I was starting my career – the heady mix of anxiety, excitement, and ambition. Then one of them said something that struck a nerve.
This particular young woman spoke about the sense of frustration and humiliation that takes over when someone behaves badly towards her in the workplace. Surely, she reasoned, such incidents must happen less frequently the more senior you become – or at the very least, you must become more practiced at dealing with them, and therefore less emotionally affected.
I wish I could have told her that this was true. Unfortunately, what I said instead was that regardless of one’s professional achievements and status, finding yourself in situations where you are subjected to poor behaviour still happens. And it never gets easier or more acceptable.
I know this because in the past month alone I’ve found myself in situations where people’s behavior has ranged from rather rude (prompting a very British muttering of, “well there’s no need for that”) to entirely lacking in the basic principles of human decency. This kind of behaviour doesn’t make me any less embarrassed or furious today than it did when I was a twenty-something young professional.
I recently read an inspiring article about Vishwas Aggrawal, an Uber driver in Canada. A smart, academic Indian with a professional background who prides himself on making every trip a shining example of customer service. When Vishwas is having a bad day, he doesn’t drive. When he is driving, he’s unfalteringly courteous. He has made a conscious choice not to treat anyone with disrespect.
Basic common courtesy shouldn’t be difficult. Basic respect for fellow employees, suppliers, vendors, the hundreds of people with whom we interact every day, should be a business requirement as much as revenue and profit.
And yet too often, it isn’t. Too often, those who consider themselves above the rules of human decency – because they are paying for services, because they are senior, or for a multitude of reasons with which they convince themselves their behavior is reasonable –- lack the basic human decency that makes us civilized. And through this cause the energy that should be going into producing great business results to be wasted on anxiety.
In the immortal words of Aretha Franklin, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.” We would all do well to think about what respect means to everyone we come in contact with everyday, just like Vishwas.