How To Get Respect: 5 Points Backed By Science
We all want to know how to get respect.
But it’s difficult. Others size you up very quickly. For instance, people evaluate how attractive you are in 13 milliseconds. Yes, milliseconds.
So how do you get respect? Let’s look at the research and see what works — and what doesn’t.
1) Power Is Respected… But There’s A Catch.
What do children say they want more than anything when they grow up? Fame.
Paraphrasing Machiavelli: if you have to choose between being loved or feared, pick feared.
Yeah, power gets you respect. So if you can make a billion dollars or become an international sensation by Thursday I highly recommend it.
In fact, one of the most recognizable signs that someone is powerful is that they break rules. Why? They can get away with it.
And often this works in reverse — when we see someone who has the gall to break rules we assume they must be powerful.
…men who measured below average on agreeableness earned about 18% more—or $9,772 more annually in their sample—than nicer guys. Ruder women, meanwhile, earned about 5% or $1,828 more than their agreeable counterparts… “Nice guys are getting the shaft,” says study co-author Beth A. Livingston, an assistant professor of human resource studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.
And these negative characteristics are valuable in some roles:
Several of the 12 “dark side” traits – such as those associated with narcissism, being overly dramatic, being critical of others and being extremely focused on complying with rules – actually had a positive effect on a number of facets of the cadets’ leadership development over time… “it appears that even negative characteristics can be adaptive in particular settings or job roles.”
In fact, research shows feeling powerless makes you dumber.
But respect gained through power and bad behavior comes at a cost.
Not laughing at other people’s jokes does make you seem more powerful. It also reduces social bonding.
Refuse to be impressed by others’ achievements? Definitely powerful. And in relationship research it’s classified as “destructive” behavior.
Congratulations, you’re killing your relationships and alienating the people closest to you.
What about the workplace? Do you need to strut around the office to show people who’s boss?
Research from Harvard shows people would rather work with a lovable fool than a competent jerk — even if they won’t admit it:
(To learn what the most successful people have in common, click here.)
Appearing powerful definitely gets you respect — but potentially at a very high cost. Is it better to just be nice?
2) We Love Mr. Nice Guy… Sometimes.
Can you be nice and get respect? Many people immediately think “nice guys finish last.” You’ll get walked on.
But research from Wharton professor Adam Grant shows “givers” are disproportionately represented at the top of success metrics.
But in some professions, like the military, you have to be tough… right?
Shawn Achor, author of the excellent book The Happiness Advantage, points out that top leaders in the Navy are supportive:
In the U.S. Navy, researchers found, annual prizes for efficiency and preparedness are far more frequently awarded to squadrons whose commanding officers are openly encouraging. On the other hand, the squadrons receiving the lowest marks in performance are generally led by commanders with a negative, controlling, and aloof demeanor.
Powerful people won’t admit they don’t know something and don’t ask for help. They might look weak. But they also don’t learn anything.
The best way to learn also turns out to be a powerful influence tactic: just ask for advice.
How do expert FBI hostage negotiators get what they want? Listening and empathy.
…agreeableness, one of the Big Five personality dimensions, is linked with higher-quality friendships, successful parenting, better academic and career performance, and health… Based on the review of the literature, it is postulated that being agreeable may be the path to enduring interpersonal relationships, happiness, success, and well-being.
So is it just that simple? Be nice all the time? Sadly, no.
While givers do make the top of success metrics, they are also disproportionately found at the bottom:
What I find across various industries, and various studies is the Givers are most likely to end up at the bottom. That’s primarily because they end up putting other people first in ways that either burn them out, or will allow them to get taken advantage of and exploited by Takers.
While we have a great deal to learn from total altruists, it’s a dangerous path. In some cases, yes, “Nice guys do finish last.”
(For Adam Grant’s tips on how you can be nice while protecting yourself from being taken advantage of, click here.)
Research shows not being aggressive limits goal achievement but being very aggressive hurts relationships. So what should we do?
3) It’s A Balance
We don’t merely respect people because of power… or just because of kindness.
Research shows we judge people on the qualities of competence and warmth:
Social psychologist Cuddy, an assistant professor of business administration, investigates how people perceive and categorize others. Warmth and competence, she finds, are the two critical variables. They account for about 80 percent of our overall evaluations of people…
But the tricky part is we always assume a trade-off between the two: more competent means less warm, more warm means less competent.
This idea of balance is pervasive. What happens when you see that uber-perfect person screw up a bit?
You actually like them more because it makes them human.
“If you’re too soft—no matter how competent and able you are—people may not respect your authority. But if you only have dominance and you don’t have great ideas, and you use force to stay in power, then people will resent you,” he concludes. “Being successful as a leader requires one to have both dominance and prestige.”
Harvard leadership professor Gautam Mukunda explains great leaders have supreme confidence — and humility. (Skip to 4:15.)
Of course, riding that line is extremely difficult. And there are biases that make it even harder.
When men show anger they’re seen as competent. But women displaying the exact same behavior are perceived negatively.
And on the flip side, society tells men it’s okay to be vulnerable and open up — but then punishes them for it. (Skip to 16:15.)
(For more on what the best leaders have in common, click here.)
Becoming someone who truly embodies all these qualities sounds impossible, right? Can’t we just fake it?
You can… but that’s tricky too.
4) Don’t Be A Method Actor
“Fake it until you make it.” A little of that is only natural. But I’m seeing it reach a whole new level: out-and-out acting and utter manipulation.
And it’s a mistake. People think they’re going to act powerful and tough get a reaction like this:
What they end up doing is losing friends and gaining allies who will only be allies as long as there’s something to be gained.
And those who show Machiavellian kindness often suffer a worse fate — trust is easy to lose and hard to regain.
But perhaps that sounds pious. Here’s a more concrete reason: it doesn’t work — or at least not for long.
In five minutes people can size you up with about 70% accuracy:
Across a wide range of studies, Ambady and Rosenthal found that observations lasting up to five minutes had an average correlation of r = .39 with subsequent behavior, which corresponds to 70 percent accuracy at predicting outcomes…
Maybe you enjoy gambling but I don’t like those odds — especially over the long haul.
Unless you have an Oscar for acting, faking for big stretches of time is hard. In fact, research shows acting smart makes you look stupid.
The only way to convincingly change how you’re perceived is to do it from the inside. (We often call this “being delusional.”)
And what’s even more insidious is that over time, we can become what we imitate.
You’re performing. If you perform for long enough you can begin to inhabit the role. You can begin to change who you are… When you’re acting out these roles, what you’ve got to remember is you are changing yourself. Over time you will change yourself into that person, so it had better be the person you genuinely want to be.
(For more on the techniques of FBI hostage negotiators, click here.)
Being a powerful jerk is a risky tradeoff — but so is being a total nice guy. And balancing is really, really hard.
So when we pull all this together what really is the best way to get respect?
5) How To Get Respect
You don’t need to strut around like a jerk but we can learn something from powerful people: confidence is vital.
People love confidence so much that we sometimes prefer those who talk a good game over those who produce quantifiable results.
But be warm.
Changing yourself is not inauthentic. Part of what people do is they change. They evolve, they can grow, and they can change themselves.
So what it is to be authentic? It doesn’t mean you can’t change, but it does mean that the changes that you make, again, have to be aligned with the sense of who you really are, and who you want to be.
In fact, research shows that when you try to be your best self, you end up presenting your true self:
In sum, positive self-presentation facilitates more accurate impressions, indicating that putting one’s best self forward helps reveal one’s true self.
Don’t be a total jerk and don’t be an utter pushover. And don’t be a method actor.
Be the best version of who you are.
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