Well, the short answer is “give respect to get respect”. I was taught this from a young age. Treat the janitor with the same respect as the CEO — this may sound terribly pedantic but that was the way at home. For a long time, I took it for granted that this is how it is every where. And then I grew up.
This happened early on in my career. I was the newbie in a Marketing team of the Indian subsidiary of an MNC. I was green, very eager to learn and impress my team. And I was treated exceedingly well ( I have been very fortunate that way… I have rarely had any problem of being accepted into a team).
But a month into the system, something was not sitting right. We had peons to help the team with a lot of miscellaneous activities. That included serving us tea from time to time.
I started noticing things like a general lack of manners around the office. Some of my colleagues didn’t extend any courtesy to the peons . They weren’t rude but didn’t really acknowledge their presence; as though the peons were part of the furniture.
I recollect asking the peon to stop calling me Madam and to use my name — he was shocked.
I cribbed about it to my then boyfriend (now husband). Here’s what he told me.
“Cribbing will not change anything. Perhaps your colleagues are not aware that this is not how peons are to be treated. Show them how it’s done.”
I started saying “Thank you” more loudly and emphatically to the peons.
When I made any specific requests I started explaining the reason behind my requests rather than just demanding for things to be done my way.
If they had to stay late because of some project I was working on, I made sure to Thank them (I did this earlier too but now I made a conscious effort to do so in front of others).
My moment of gratification came a few weeks later when I saw a colleague saying Thank you when he was given tea. And this colleague said it without any conscious effort.
Sometimes, you have to be the change you want to see.