When You Can’t Get No Respect

You Gotta Give Some, To Get SomeSome will recall comic Rodney Dangerfield’s catch phrase. Others may remember Aretha Franklin’s iconic spelling, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

When you respect someone, it’s a verb.  When you get respect, it’s a noun. Either way, it has positive connotations.

But what’s the connection between respecting someone, and receiving respect from them?

Is it a chicken-egg thing? Does one cause the other? Is it inevitably one-sided, as in “respect for one’s elders,” where the relationship between respecter and respectee is a permanent one?

Is it like trust, where the trustor and trustee exist in a constantly reciprocating relationship? Is it like Jesus’s saying, “It is more blessed to [respect] than to [be respected]?”

Is it a Beatles-like thing, where “the [respect] you take is equal to the [respect] you make“? Is it like exercise, where no pain, no gain is the rule? Or is it like Bonnie Raitt sang, “I can’t make you [respect] me, if you don’t?”

And finally, what’s the connection with buying, selling, and the modern workplace?

Respect is Unconditional

We agree that we should respect others where respect is due (never mind who judges “due”). It’s much harder to agree that others should respect us. Particularly when the “others” are the ones we may be disagreeing with.

If I respect you, it doesn’t necessarily follow that you’ll respect me. Many cultures show respect for elders; it doesn’t follow that the elders must respect the young. Nor is it necessarily disrespectful if they don’t.  So respecting someone is no guarantee that they’ll respect you (sorry, John Lennon).

Though frequently, it does work that way. To show respect to another can be a form of etiquette.  This function is powerful in sales, where it’s easy to disrespect customers’ knowledge, even if we don’t intend to.

Demonstrated respect for the customer is rare enough that respect can be a source of differentiation.  Too many sellers don’t follow the Kantian rule of treating others as ends in themselves, treating them instead as means to our own ends. That’s disrespect, and it’s not uncommon, given that selling is potentially a manipulative, secretive black art – if not handled from trust.

Respect should be unconditional. If I respect you only on condition that you respect me, that is faux respect. If you merit respect, I should respect you, regardless of whether you return it to me.


So far, you’re likely agreeing with most of what I’ve said.  But how about this. What happens when you should, by any objective measure, be respected – and someone disrespects you?

The key question is: do you return disrespect for disrespect? Let me be a little controversial here:

  • If you are holding a resentment against someone who has disrespected you, the salient point is that you are holding a resentment.
  • If you are upset by the lack of respect from others, as should be your due, the only relevant point is that you are upset.
  • If you lose all respect for someone who has disrespected you, then either you misplaced your respect in the first place, or you gave in the desire for revenge.
  • If you demand respect, you will most likely not get it. If you continue to demand it, you will continue to drive down the odds of getting it.

Respect is a virtue – when paid.  When respect is received – treat it as a gift, a gift of grace.

Act so as to earn respect – but give up attachment to the outcome.

Be grateful for the respect you earn – but don’t treasure it.

Respect others – but do so without conditioning it on being respected in return.

It is better to respect than to be respected.

If you can’t get no respect – that’s your problem. And you can fix it anytime you want, by detaching from the outcome.

Go respect someone.







10 replies
  1. Brad Farris
    Brad Farris says:

    Such a timely post. I had been thinking about this issue of respect a lot lately.

    If I can summarize, you can only control who you *give* respect to. If you want to gain respect you have to *act* respect worthy (and you may or may not receive it).

    I am finding that as I grow older I want folks to respect what I’ve done, and what I’ve learned. But that is often hidden (and perhaps vain). We live in a “what have you done for me lately” world. If I can’t show relevance to the now maybe I don’t deserve that respect?

    Similarly with others I have learned to respect that they have worked hard to build a following, or a business — but I have to have the curiosity to find out what specifically caused that. I have to make their experience relevant to me today in order to support that respect.

    Interesting thoughts…

    • Charles H. Green
      Charles H. Green says:

      Brad, thanks for chiming in. Interesting that you were thinking of the issue as well, I wonder if there’s a reason it’s in the air.

      Your thoughts are slightly different from mine, which makes them all the more interesting. From my perspective, the thought that “maybe [you] don’t deserve that respect” feels harsh to oneself. I’d be inclined to say either that you probably do deserve it, but deserving and getting have nothing to do with each other – or perhaps that “deserving” is a pretty meaningless concept.

      But I’m fascinated by your comment on respecting others – suggesting curiosity, so that your respect feels genuine, and not knee-jerk or shallow. I kind of like that idea. Yes.

      • Brad Farris
        Brad Farris says:

        Yes! Deserving and getting have nothing to do with one another, exactly.

        I see/hear folks who feel like they’ve “paid their dues” and that has earned them something — and it has — with their peers who also have “paid their dues” (or not paid their dues). The world doesn’t owe them anything regardless of how much dues paying they have done.

  2. TenYearTexan
    TenYearTexan says:

    Brad –
    I think that to a large degree respect is a reaction to a person’s character, less so to their accomplishments, but I guess that differs from one person to the next.

    People earn my respect by showing courage, integrity, intelligence, level-headedness, good judgement and competence.
    I want to differ with CHG. There’s a difference between acting respectfully to someone and actually respecting them. I show respect to a police officer, even if I think he’s being a jerk and doesn’t deserve it because I respect the difficult job he performs (and perhaps I fear the outcome of not respecting him). But if someone is disrepectful to me, it shows a lack of character – thus they don’t deserve my respect. (re: “who judges whom?” We all judge, right? That is what respect is – a positive judgement of someone ).

    Your point about not returning disrepectful behavior is a very good one: it is an opportunity to show character – being respectful to someone who is not respectful to you. And, I confess, not easily done.

    What I’m not sure about is: I feel that I should mirror displeasure with someone’s behavior as an incentive for them to be better. I’m thinking of a couple folks at the office with whom I’ve been disrespectful, because i feel like they are not good at their jobs, nor do they seem to be trying very hard, but are asking me to help them.

  3. mpinflorida
    mpinflorida says:

    Lots of untruths here. Single women are disrespected in the workplace to a large extent because they are seen as economically desparate. It’s universal in corporations.

    • Charles H. Green
      Charles H. Green says:

      I quite agree with you about women being disrespected in business. But I don’t see where the untruths lie.
      Your point is not incompatible with the article. You are talking about social causes of disrespect, and I’m talking about personal reactions reactions to it.

  4. bullied around
    bullied around says:

    bull crap. No one respect me because i am too sensitive too their feelings and respect other too much. Since i don’t want to hurt anyone, no one seems to fear me enough to respect me.

    • person that shows respect to u
      person that shows respect to u says:

      ik how u feel but you have to be the bigger person i been bullied every since i was lil and it made me the women i am today


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