How to Gain Respect at Work

3 years ago

Having a hard time gaining respect at work? Tired of being at the bottom of the office totem pole? One of the hardest parts of being in your Terrible Twenties is starting out in your career. Employers often treat entry-level professionals like they're fungible. And who can blame 'em?? At least with regards to the legal job market, there are hundreds of applications for every one vacancy. Can't cut it? No worries, there are 50 others just like you, lined up and ready to start tomorrow.

This skewed supply and demand gives rise to the unfortunate circumstances many young professionals face today, including condescension, a lack of appreciation and general disrespect. If this is you, I sympathize. I've been there and it sucks. So what do you do?

You could try working harder, being proactive about getting new assignments and putting in ridiculously long hours to finish everything in record time. Maybe in a few years you'll get the credit you deserve and start being treated like a person! That's a great plan, I'm 100% behind you on that. Really. But in the meantime, if you need more immediate relief, try these 5 tips to see some improvement in your situation!

1. Never Let Them See You Struggle 

Gain Respect

You just finished grad school, you're no longer ballin' off student loans, and money is tight. You may or may not have paid for your last lunch with a bunch of nickels, dimes and pennies since you've long spent all the quarters. I know that. You know that. Your mom knows that from all the bills she's had to pay. Your friends know that cause you can't afford to go nowhere. But your bosses--your bosses--they can NEVER know that.  It's like dating--once you know someone needs you, has absolutely nothing else and is fully dependent on you, you kind of start to be turned off a little bit. Don't let your bosses in on the fact that you're broke and you'll avoid any chance of them taking advantage of your situation or delaying in giving you a raise because they know you're dying for whatever scraps are thrown your way.

Instead, I like to employ the Rockefeller mentality. Every now and then, I mention in passing how well my parent's business is doing, or how I think I'm going to go shopping during the weekend for some new seasonal items. In reality, I try not to solicit financial support from my family and the last thing I bought that was "in season" might be from 2009. But they don't need to know that!

Don't be a charity case--be a financially stable adult and see how quickly you gain respect.

2. Dress for Success

Gain Respect--Versace

I know you can buy suits at a discount store for a great price. But you're a professional now. You don't want just suits--you want amazing suits. Game will recognize game, and I promise you your boss will take note if he or she sees you wearing something they'd want to be seen in. It reinforces the Rockefeller mentality when you stroll in on a Monday morning in your chicest business attire.

You must be thinking, "but Jen, you said it yourself! I'm broke!" Well, get to work then, cause there are tons of stores where you can get designer suits for under $100. This is one expense you're going to have to incorporate into your budget--a professional wardrobe is a must. Look for quality pieces that will last you a long time and take good care of them. I've personally found success in the clearance section of Lord & Taylor. They have Anne Klein and Tahari at ridiculous prices. While there are no retail locations in South Florida, you can still shop online and other similar high end department stores might have good deals if you're willing to take the time to look.

A high-end professional wardrobe is also helpful if you look young. A baby face is both a blessing and a curse. It can be hard to gain respect when people think you're a high school intern--not a mistake they're likely to make if you're sporting one of your kick-ass power suits!

3. Stop Apologizing So Much  

Gain Respect--Apologizing

You're the new kid on the block. By default, everyone in the office is gonna want to blame you for anything goes wrong. Don't do it for them! Eliminate the words "I'm sorry" from your vocabulary--at most, throw out a "that was my mistake, won't happen again" if you actually did commit an error. But if there's an oversight or you're being blamed for something you didn't do, speak up! Politely of course. Maybe explain what happened on your end and say that you're not sure where the misunderstanding occurred but you'll be sure to rectify it. Also note the trend of stating your next step--it implies to people that you're willing to take action and makes it so that you don't end on a sorry note, literally.

4. Keep Meticulous Records 

Gain Respect

Part of not becoming the office scapegoat is being able to back up your own work. It's like high school algebra--gotta show the work to get credit! So save every email, make notes on every phone call, keep all your drafts. This way, when someone tries to blame you for something, you can point to evidence to the contrary. You might think I'm being insanely paranoid, but speaking from experience, there will come a time when you're going to need to defend your work in some capacity, and when that time comes having hard evidence is much more compelling.


"I think I talked with that person sometime last week, I don't remember the exact date but he mentioned something about the documents they needed."


"I spoke with Mr. X on January 1, 2011 at 3:15pm. We identified the outstanding documents and agreed they'd be provided by the end of this month via certified mail. Would you like to see my notes?"

Boom. Respect.

5. Act Like You Know Everything 

Gain Respect

Even if you have no clue what your boss is talking about, what document they're referring to or what rule they're citing, you just nod your head in agreement and scrunch your brow like you know exactly what they're talking about and are thinking really hard about it. Then you go figure it out. I know people say that there's no such thing as a dumb question, but your boss is really not trying to hold your hand, and asking about the basics makes you look dumb.

Google is your best friend people. You're gonna be hard pressed to come up with a question that hasn't been thought of by someone on the worldwide web. So do some research before you ask. Figure things out on your own. Then, if you're still lost, go back with a targeted question.

Something along the lines of "I looked into these claims but am still unsure as to how our client can present a defense to the strict liability alleged due to their capacity as the property owner" works well. This way, you gain respect by showing you've done your research and are coming back with an analytical question. You're not just some newby sitting there doe-eyed and bushy-tailed going, "huh???" when their boss gives them a new assignment.

Remember, when in doubt just fake it till you make it. You got this!!



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