By Joyce E.A. Russell
Special to The Washington Post
— "I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university."
-- Albert Einstein
Recently, the University of Maryland was honored to host the 14th Dalai Lama for a lecture. To a sold-out crowd of students, faculty, administrators and dignitaries, he offered some of his life lessons and insights. One of his themes was the importance of treating people as people. Sounds simple, yet often not done in the world.
As he stated, "Everyone is born into the world as a person, and everyone leaves the world as a person." Yet we have the tendency to forget that fact when interacting with others. Instead, we get caught up in what he calls "secondary differences" among us. Those could be age, race, ethnicity, religion, wealth, rank or status — and any number of things. When we look at people and interact with them, he said we have the tendency to see all these differences rather than the simple fact that we are all just people. This creates barriers between people, making it difficult for us to trust each other and collaborate.
Treat people as people, with respect. Yes, a simple message, but how often is this carried out even in our work organizations? You would think those would be the most civil and professional places where people would behave at their best. After all, it's not a war zone — or is it?
Just think about your day at work. You might hear people yelling at each other, or maybe they send nasty emails to one another or gossip about others behind their backs. These are very common problems, and sadly, ones I hear about much too frequently.
So what can be done? Perhaps if we all just tried to adopt one simple strategy to treat people with respect, we could make a difference in the quality of the lives of those around us, and our own life as well.
Here are some suggestions to get the ball rolling:
Treat people the same no matter their race, age, gender, religion, etc.
Praise more frequently than you criticize.
Do not marginalize or disenfranchise people. Do not exclude people from participating in meetings or voting on things, especially if they are the ones doing much of the work.
Look over your emails before sending them. Email is not the forum for communicating bad news, anger, frustrations, etc. It rarely, if ever, comes across in a constructive manner; rather, it destroys relationships.
Get feedback from someone in a group of people you are targeting. For example, suppose you are going to adopt a dress code for the staff at the company. Before setting standards, collect insights from the staff themselves. People are much more receptive to change when they are able to offer their views.
Practice what you preach. We may urge others to collaborate, but do we practice it ourselves?
Have a positive attitude toward others. Cal Ripken Jr., the legendary Orioles "Iron Man" and baseball Hall of Famer, shared in his 2013 University of Maryland commencement address his view about the importance of having a positive attitude. A positive attitude can make all the difference in how you interact with others and how successful you are as well.
Remember that saying we all probably heard from our parents, "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all." Time and time again, we hear colleagues saying hurtful things to each other that certainly do not improve the quality of our relationships or morale at the workplace. So what's the point in making these statements?
Listen to what others have to say without interrupting them.
If you do make a mistake in how you treat someone, apologize. It is amazing how many people cannot say they are sorry even though they know they were wrong. It takes courage and respect for others to sincerely apologize.
As the Dalai Lama noted, regardless of whether you are a believer or nonbeliever and regardless of what you believe in, all people are just people and are deserving of our respect. How have we gotten so far away from basic civility and respect even in the most professional of places — the workplace? It's our job to bring respect and civility back. It can (and must) be done by each one of us, each and every day.
Russell is the vice dean and the director of the Executive Coaching and Leadership Development Program at the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business. She is a licensed industrial and organizational psychologist and has more than 25 years of experience coaching executives and consulting on leadership and career management.