Hierarchy Plays A Role in Disrespect
The manager and subordinate I’d been working with as a mediator were both angry with each other. The subordinate felt disrespected by the manager and vice versa. But, while the manager shrugged it off as the employee being too sensitive (and disrespectful), the employee was stuck in a cycle of feeling disrespected and powerless, growing more and more enraged each time the manager failed to apologize. It was coming to a head and the manager couldn’t understand why.
The fact is when it comes to workplace disrespect, hierarchy plays a role. Generally, when a manager and direct report both treat each other with respect, then there’s a feeling of equality to the working relationship, while at the same time both remain clear as to who’s the boss.
But when one is disrespectful to the other, then hierarchy plays a role. It’s all about who holds the power. A boss can usually be disrespectful to their subordinate and retain the power in the relationship (unless the disrespect is totally egregious). And there’s really not much a subordinate can do that’s productive if their boss is disrespectful to them. But if a subordinate is disrespectful to the boss, they’re taking a risk – it could mean they lose their job.
Managers have to understand this respect power dynamic if they want to get the best performance out of their subordinates. This occasionally means that a manager will need to offer a genuine apology to an employee who feels disrespected. That way, they can both get back to that feeling of equal respect, and back to working well together.