We've had a couple of great discussions on this site and on LinkedIn over the saying, "Respect must be earned." You can see some of the discussion on the comments to Mary Schaefer's post, Respect Must Be Earned. Also, check out the tag on respect and see a number of great posts about respect on this blog.
However, that saying came from a different time. People used to think in terms of earning something or having it given. A more modern way of saying "respect must be earned" today might be something to the effect that "we pull respect." We're expected to attract respect without pursuing it outright.
Respect is a push, not a pull.
Nevertheless, that still misses a key point about respect that we often overlook. You see, respect, like humility is not about us. Respect is about what we do for others. Respect is a push, not a pull.
If you try to pull respect, you risk several errors. One is the error of demanding respect. When someone demands respect, I am tempted to withhold it instantly. (I'm rather contrary.)
Several years ago I managed a warehouse. While walking around one day I noticed a new temporary worker doing a sloppy job. I asked him about how he had been shown what to do and why he wasn't doing his job the proper way. He told me he was doing his job the way he wanted to. Not wanting to invest a lot of time and energy in this person (my own mistake), I suggested that he needed to call it a day and ask his temporary service to put him somewhere else tomorrow. We wouldn’t need his services any longer today or in the future.
“What?” he asked.
“You can leave.” I answered.
“You can’t talk to me like that. You need to talk to me with respect. I don’t have to take that from you!” he responded.
“Alright, you can leave, sir.” I replied.
The rest of the exchange probably shouldn’t be reprinted.
No one wants to have their respect demanded, manipulated, coerced or cajoled. It’s just not proper. Respect is one of those things I consider as a "push" attribute. I can always give respect and I can always give more than I usually do (exemplified, sadly, above). There is always room for more respect to be given, but not taken. When I focus on myself, I won't get any and I won't give any. We all lose.
Let's stop trying to pull respect and give respect all we can. What if our respect was measured by what we gave rather than what we got? What if your respect was the total of what you gave? How would you be doing? How can you push more respect this week?