Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Earning Respect

Hint, it’s not about position or dominance.

Respect. Should you blindly respect your elders, your government, your teachers and your spiritual leaders? What if those people aren’t behaving in a way that engenders respect? What if they are flawed human beings who don’t practice what they preach, or who take advantage of their position? What if they don’t have the knowledge or insight truly necessary to lead and “do the right thing”?

What is respect? It’s not something that you get just because you are put in a position – after all, any system is prone to manipulation, be it voting for a political figure, getting a position of authority in a company that you didn’t deserve, or finding yourself in charge of something because there just wasn’t anyone else around to take care of it! True respect, according to, is a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

So you could respect someone just because they are the boss, or in office, or a religious figure (“achievements”). And you could respect someone because they have amazing abilities, either natural or earned by years of practice. And you could respect someone because they can do things you could not dream of doing. But what about if you earned respect because you chose to do the right thing, honor others, walk your talk and stay above the fray, even when you wanted to jump down into the mud with those who are taunting you? What if you earned respect because you treated others with compassion and care and remembered that, deep down, human beings are all wired with the same needs and concerns?

To quote lyrics from a Buddy Guy song entitled, Skin Deep:

I’ve been around a while
I know wrong from right
And since a long time ago
Things been always black and white
Just like you can’t judge a book by the cover
We all gotta be careful
How we treat one another…..

Skin Deep
Skin Deep
Underneath we’re all the same
Skin Deep
Skin Deep
Underneath we’re all the same
We’re all the same

If you are someone who believes that by virtue of your position – you are a parent, a boss, a coach of a sports team, an athlete who excels, etc. –you are deserving of respect, you probably want to stop reading here. However, if you are a person who wants to be respected because you are deserving of respect based on your qualities, read on for some ideas about how to be a respected person. Remember…

  1. Actions really do speak louder than words. Just because you say you are a person of integrity or that you know what you are doing or that you care about people does not make it true. The adage “talk is cheap” applies here. Talk all you want, but it’s what you do that matters. And remember, people are watching: Your children watch. Your employees watch. Your friends watch. If you choose the wrong path and never admit your mistakes, or you try to protect those who have done wrong (including yourself), you will dig a deeper hole to rise from when you are trying to earn respect. Do what you would do if your actions would be plastered on the front page of the paper tomorrow morning.
  2. To sing the lyrics from Skin Deep; if you want to be respected, respect others. It’s true that while someone may look like different from you, underneath it all, we are all the same. Parents want more for their children. We all crave respect and recognition. We worry, we have fears, we get scared and we can feel joy. We may not agree on the paths to achieve resolution to these things, but in the end, we are mostly seeking the same ends. Don’t treat someone else differently because of the way they look, or where they come from, or their different viewpoint; underneath we’re all the same and if you want respect, try and find that common ground. Don’t judge the book by the cover, and you won’t be disrespected when you are wrong.
  3. That cruelty of every kind conveys weakness, not strength (“All cruelty springs from weakness” – Seneca). There are those who are cruel to the ones who are perceived to be “beneath” them – children, animals, a smaller or weaker spouse, employees, or those who are generally disadvantaged in life – it’s easy to be cruel to a person or an animal who has no chance to fight back or even the score. But exerting your power in these circumstances does not earn you respect; it shows you to be a weak individual who does not deserve respect. The truly powerful person subjugates themselves to those who are “weaker”.
  4. That abilities and achievements can fail but qualities of character stay with you for a lifetime. At the top of your field? In the catbird seat of leadership in your company? Winning awards and accolades? Wealthy beyond your wildest imagination? “This too shall pass.” All things in life are transitional. The mighty will fall, you can’t take it with you, and nothing lasts forever. If you want to garner respect, do so when you are up, when you are down and when you are in the middle. To be a truly respected person, you don’t need trappings; you need the right actions.
  5. To take the higher ground. It’s so much safer up there – less flooding, a better view, not as many people crowded around. In fact, so many people want to stay down at the lower levels and duke it out to show their strength that when you take the higher ground, you by definition are someone to be looked up to!

If you want to be someone who is respected, start by respecting others. Seek to learn and understand.

More from Beverly D. Flaxington
More from Psychology Today
More from Beverly D. Flaxington
More from Psychology Today