We all know respect in the workplace is important. But finding ways to advance your agenda without stepping all over people can be challenging. According to a study conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 72% of employees ranked respectful treatment of all employees as the most important factor in their job satisfaction. Moreover, employees who feel respected by their peers are more engaged, motivated, and productive. Respectful interactions are directly linked to personal success, fostering a nurturing environment where individuals can thrive.
But let’s get real. When you’re pressed for time, expectations are high, and a peer continues to debunk your progress and you need to advance your agenda, frustration and anger take the lead. With these two emotions in the driver’s seat, it can be difficult to remain intentional and respectful, especially if your leadership rewards an aggressive approach to advancing the agenda. This is when it’s easy to start stepping all over people. And then… regret inevitably follows. Short term, you will likely make progress but long term, you’ve planted seeds that may complicate your future efforts.
Let’s play this out. You and a peer need to work together to make progress but neither one of you will concede to the other’s idea. You battle until one person “wins” and then the peer with the “losing” idea agrees to align for the sake of time and to appease leadership. When you go to execute together, they dig their heels in or find ways to debunk progress. You’ve won the war. But the battle will rage on.
One high potential leader I worked with comes to mind. He hired me when he was ready for a promotion into the c-suite but recognized that his previous approach to advance the agenda wasn’t sustainable. He had come from a sales background in a predominately male culture where the person with the loudest argument and most salient insults won. As he looked to model behavior in the c-suite, he recognized that this type of approach would no longer work for him and was preventing him from being seen as ready for promotion. He also noticed that when he stepped all over people to advance his agenda, it drained him and left him feeling disconnected from his core values. He needed to find a new approach.
Finding a new approach to advance your agenda without stepping all over people can be challenging. To help, I’ve broken down the top three strategies to move your agenda forward collaboratively, without disregarding the feelings and perspectives of others, while still prioritizing speed.
1. Active Listening and Understanding:
As basic as it sounds, active listening is not only the foundation of respectful communication, it can be the key that will enable you to unlock the collaborative path forward. When engaging with your peers, if you focus on truly understanding their perspectives and concerns, you can find the win-win between what you’re trying to do and what they want to do so that you advance together.
You can also leverage active listening to identify the challenges that are preventing you both from getting on the same page. For example, my previously mentioned client made a deliberate effort to resist the temptation to attack when a peer had a different option or perspective than him. Instead, he starting asking thoughtful questions. This approach helped to strengthen his stance and he was able to insert other perspectives and insights to merge the best ideas and identify a path forward. Over time, he became less defensive and his leaders took note of his evolved, more effective approach. The combination of finding a new, collaborative approach to advance his agenda without stepping over others, the positive feedback from management, and the inner peace he felt from staying in alignment with his values led to a more effective approach, greater confidence, and improved his mental wellbeing. He also started to hear more about being ready for promotion.
If active listening doesn’t come naturally to you or if you’ve been in an environment where the loudest voice wins, and need to un-train yourself from some toxic behaviors, try this. Find a safe, low-stakes meeting to practice attentive listening without interrupting, demonstrating that the thoughts and opinions you hear are valued. Reflect on the points of view that you hear, and ask clarifying questions to gain deeper insights. Empathy plays a crucial role here—put yourself in their shoes to comprehend their emotions and motivations. By showing genuine interest in others’ ideas and acknowledging their viewpoints, you create a supportive atmosphere where mutual respect can flourish. When peers feel heard and understood, they are more likely to be receptive to your agenda and collaborate willingly.
Once you get comfortable doing this in low-stakes settings, apply your new skill in higher stakes meetings and see how things start to get easier for you as you model this new approach.
2. Collaboration and Consensus Building:
Collaboration fosters a sense of shared ownership and respect among peers. When we get stuck in patterns of trying to “one-up” each other, we can get blindsided to iterative ideas that can improve our own and stuck on “winning.” Forcing anyone to do something they don’t want to will eventually cause resistance down the line. Going back to the example where two peers battle for their idea to win and one reluctantly agrees then drags their feet in execution. By bringing your peers in on designing the solution and modeling active listening, you set the table to create buy-in down the road.
To help, emphasize teamwork and collective problem-solving. The best way to do this is to plan brainstorming sessions and open forums where everyone can contribute their ideas freely before being forced to choose a path forward. In these sessions, model valuing diversity of thought and experience during these conversations. Acknowledge and appreciate the unique strengths each peer brings to the table.
When conflicts arise (and they will and should to get to the best idea), approach them constructively, seeking resolutions that benefit everyone involved. Consensus building is key—strive to find common ground that aligns with your agenda while addressing the concerns of your peers. By involving them in the decision-making process and valuing their contributions, you cultivate an environment of mutual respect and cooperation. This may sound like, “I can understand and appreciate why you would want to divert resources towards creating more sales materials to support our customer base. However, diverting those resources away from R&D will threaten our future pipeline and our ability to sustain long-term. What ideas do you have that will allow us to continue to support our customer base while not debunking our research efforts?”
A good framework to leverage is:
- Acknowledge and validate (it’s understandable….)
- Highlight the challenge with the recommended approach
- Ask an open-ended question that allows them to brainstorm solutions that will appease both your agendas
This type of approach demonstrates that you are listening, that you have respect and understanding for their proposed approach and allows for shared brainstorming and problem solving to find the win-win. After all, you both work for the same company so finding the win-win is good for the bottom line, for the relationship, and for your long-term health and wellness.
3. Clear and Respectful Communication:
Clear, respectful communication is paramount when working with peers, regardless of how angry or upset you become. You can’t control how others act but you can control your response. And doing so will enable you to sleep better at night knowing that you acted in alignment with your values and also, it will enable you to gain the respect of others. Does this mean you push aside your concerns and perspective and agree with others’ even when you know their solution won’t work for you or your group? Absolutely not. You can advance the agenda while still being clear about what your team’s needs are.
To do this, be transparent about your goals, expectations, and concerns. Come armed with data and insights that will help others understand your perspective. Take time prior to important discussions to condense your thoughts so that during those crucial conversations, you can clearly articulate your agenda and the reasons behind your proposals. Use language that is inclusive and considerate. Employ practices that help you feel confident walking into those meetings.
Avoid confrontational or aggressive tones, opting for diplomacy and tact instead. Be mindful of non-verbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions, as they significantly impact how your message is received. Active feedback loops are essential—ask for input and opinions, and provide constructive feedback in return. When communication is respectful and transparent, peers are more likely to respond positively to your agenda, fostering an atmosphere of trust and collaboration.
Besides preparation of your key points, a big part of preparing for this conversation is tuning into the core thought that you carry as you try to find the win-win. If you walk into a conversation with a peer thinking, “Noah has no idea what he’s talking about,” your non-verbal cues will inevitably give you away. Instead, you may reframe your thought to be, “Noah is doing what he thinks is best for his team but hasn’t had a chance to hear my team’s insights yet. Once he does, it will help to advance the conversation.” Even if Noah does turn to aggressive communication and behavior to advance his agenda after he’s heard your perspective, be sure that his loud voice and aggressive style don’t push you towards an emotional response. This may involve exploring some deep-seeded triggers so that you are able to stay squarely in the logical left side of your brain.
Demonstrating respect for your peers while advancing your agenda not only contributes to a respectful work environment but also enhances personal satisfaction and organizational success. If you find implementing these suggestions challenging or you need further guidance, I invite you to meet with me to explore tailored solutions that align with your unique leadership style and organizational context. Together, we can create an environment where you feel confident, can effectively influence, and you maintain the respect of those around you, positioning your for advancement as far as you want to go.