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“Why don’t they respect me?”

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When people don’t respect you, you start to pick up on subtle little signs.

Years ago, in my early 20s, I noticed a few of them.

  1. People would say, “What makes YOU think you can teach people how to be rich? Are you rich?”
  2. When I would be out with my friends and we’d talk to girls, we’d say, “Hi, my name is R—” (they would turn around and walk away).

Think about how big of a blow that can be to someone. For most guys, being successful with their careers and sexuality is central to their identity.

And what about when it happens to women?

Every woman can share a story about being at work, making an insightful point, and having a manager say, “That’s a nice idea” and move on to the next person…who repeats the same thing and gets all the credit!

Is it that you’re young? Is it that you’re a woman? What can you do about it?

I thought about this when I got a question from one of my readers, Lori:

“I’m a 26 year old who looks 20 in scrubs and work with surgeons and doctors all day. In the hospital ladder I have more authority over nurses working there for 30 years. How can I get them to respect me and stop telling me how to do my job or questioning my decisions?”
–Lori

Maybe you look young. Maybe you ARE young. Maybe you’re a young woman in a male-dominated industry.

If you can’t get the respect of the people around you — if they just think of you as a hot girl, or a little “rough around the edges” — it can be impossible to change their impression of you.

Along the way, we’ve all encountered this.

So how did you beat it?

How have you gained the respect of the people around you? It can be your coworkers…or your parents…or even your friends.

Share your story below.

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129 Comments

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  1. […] Be the Expert: “Why don’t they respect me?” is a post from: I Will Teach You To Be Rich. […]

  2. I’ve come across one way to get senior people to listen.. You’ll need to be comfortable using the jargon of that group of people. My own background is in analytics so I’ll have to use terms such as variables instead of numbers, database instead of list and so on. Once they hear you speaking in terms and phrases expected from someone in your role, they’ll relax, get past judging if you know what you’re talking about, and start to listen. Silly but that’s been my experience.

  3. Interestingly, I am arrogant. I am not a British person living in the UK, and people around me do not tell the world if they’ve done something awesome. But here’s the thing, I also make stuff happen. I tell people I will do some huge X, and then I actually do X. I do that consistently. I was promoted from new hire to senior developer in 8 months (small company though). Whatever my boss threw at me, I did it. I have actual knowledge, and I never wing it. If I don’t know something, I admit it, and whenever I have a case, I back it up. Always.

    • This sounds like it, but it is not always easy to do anything the boss tells you if your conviction tells you otherwise.

  4. Know your shit. Period. Better than those who’re above you know it. And you’ll get away with being cocky or whatever you please. Perform. Fuck the rest. And pay respect where it’s due. Don’t where it’s not. It’s worked always for me and I see no reason why it should not for you.

    • I think you’re oversimplifying a relatively complicated phenomenon. I think Jarrod, a couple of responses down, makes some great points. Just because you have more specialized knowledge and leading an effort and/or team (think project manager) doesn’t necessarily mean you understand how to code, design, etc.

      Being competent and knowing your stuff front and back certainly helps, but I’ve seen senior level employees peg the guy/girl a know-it-all and still refuse to listen to them. In this case, the whole team suffers and guess who’s to blame? The leader.

      Not only do you have to be confident and competent, but you have to understand the people you’re working with. You have to delve into their psyche and understand A.) what makes them tick and B.) why their reaction to you is negative.

      Is it just because you’re some young whippersnapper bossing them around? Are they insecure? Bitter? Why?

      Ryan Holiday recommends “finding canvases to paint on.” It’s something that has stuck with me for a long time.

      I bet that if Lori found a way to make the other nurses look good in front of the doctors she’d start winning their respect. I bet if Lori sent an e-mail to a physician saying that she knows Nurse X works with him a lot and that she’s been really helpful executing the new protocol, solved X problem, and saved the organization $20K last quarter, she’d not only win that nurses respect, but she’s positively reinforce the behavior she wanted to see from the other nurses. My bet is that most of them would work to ensure a similar e-mail was sent about them in the future.

      In summary:
      > Competence is critical, but it doesn’t always engender respect
      > Employ Ryan Holiday’s canvas strategy, even on subordinates
      > (See also: Don’t be a doucher, have empathy, make other people look good)

    • Love this response, agree wholeheartedly.

  5. A woman, working in IT, in a department that is 95% men. I do two things. 1. Like many of the comments before- be competent, and then do better. Study, learn, anticipate needs and do your work the best you can.
    2. Let others praise you. No one likes hearing a braggart, so don’t try to get praise from bragging. Reciprocate by praising others. When someone brings me an idea or I see something they did, I make sure to let them know that I like it and give credit when I apply an idea. For those in a group that doesn’t give praise (publicly or privately) this can help change that. Also, learn how to accept praise graciously. Turn it down, they stop giving it to you. Become a stuffed rooster over it, they will stop it.
    People notice how well you do your work (good and bad). If you aren’t doing your job well, no one will respect you-why should they? If they are trying to tell you how to do your job, it may be a hint that you aren’t doing it right. If that is not the case, talk to your boss about it. There might be a communication issue or they aren’t realising what is going on. Communicate!

  6. Jordan Schroeder Link to this comment

    Confidence, quiet calm, steadfastness, and care about what they care about. I have worked with numerous genius-level software developers for years, and I barely write code at all. I gain their respect (which is stingy, at best) by not competing with them but caring for them, weathering the storms with them, and showing up to the work at hand, even if I can’t understand what ideas they are wrestling with.

    In every instance over the years, they end up consulting with me, explaining the problems they are having, and asking for my perspective, even though they know I’m not an expert or even experienced in their field. It is a privilege to work side-by-side with such amazing people and be counted as an equal.

  7. They probably don’t respect Lori because she doesn’t deserve their respect. You see this in every system that features two or more classes where one is nominally senior but for all practical purposes inexperienced and the other is nominally subordinate but made up of people who have been around for decades. I had a similar experience in the military, where they plunked me – a 24-year-old college graduate – senior to guys who knew their jobs inside and out. There are good reasons for doing things this way sometimes, and you have to walk a fine line where you make it clear that real insubordination is unacceptable, but you also have to pay your dues and get real experience in your common field before you’ll get their real respect.
    If the doctor/nurse relationship is similar to the officer/enlisted one, then the only way forward for Lori is to not only know her stuff, but to practically demonstrate her knowledge in the work environment. The opportunities to do so only come with time. If her judgement saves some lives, if she catches some mistakes (and corrects them tactfully) by her subordinates, her stock will rise. These environments do have a large amount of meritocracy, but they are also structured so that you simply need to put in the time in order to get good enough to advance. You don’t typically get the opportunity to jump up the ladder.
    Frankly, they should be telling her how to do her job. They probably know the day-to-day job better than Lori does even if Lori has better specialized knowledge. Lori needs to be listening to them in this first part of her career. If she shows their experience the respect it deserves they will come around.

    • It’s possible that Lori doesn’t deserve their respect, but a LOT of women that DO deserve respect in the workforce don’t get it just because they are female – especially if they look or sound young. (And it’s not just men who show disrespect. Often women are the worst sexists toward their own gender.)

      Women with the same or better skills than men doing the same job still consistently get paid less and systematically get passed over for promotions. It’s a widespread problem with lots of data to back it up. It’s something that needs to be acknowledged and addressed until it changes.

      And I can tell you – every woman has experienced this kind of discrimination in the workplace on some level, and it sucks. I’m glad Ramit highlighted the fact that sometimes you may not deserve the disrespect that you are receiving, but he wants to help us figure out what we can do about it. Because until it changes we are going to have to deal with it and overcome it on a daily basis.

    • What I said is true for both men and women. New and unproven people are not worthy of any special respect from anyone in their new workplace. You have to earn it. I’m not going to deny there are sexism issues out there, but I don’t think that’s the major factor here. I think it has far more to do with her inexperience and her position as a nominal superior. Obviously I don’t know the details, but from what little she revealed it seems to me like she’s quite new at her job and perhaps feels like her training should be worth more than it seems to be. Well, everyone around her has probably had similar training along with their experience.
      It (unfortunately) might not be enough for her situation, but she will not get any respect without paying her dues. She won’t deserve it, either.

    • ” I’m not going to deny there are sexism issues out there, but I don’t think that’s the major factor here. I think it has far more to do with her inexperience and her position as a nominal superior”

      @Jarrod –

      You’re conflating two things – Lori’s youth/inexperience, and her femaleness. What you don’t seem to be adding into your analysis is the fact that women far more senior than someone in Lori’s position face this same problem. Executive VPs and up who are women can tell very similar stories about having other people – other men – take credit for their ideas, and meetings where they say something to a room of blank faces & looks, but yet the very next man who says the *exact same thing* gets a chorus of “That’s a brilliant/wonderful idea!”

      Over time, not only does that get completely emotionally wearing, but it costs women a great deal in time, prestige, and economic opportunities.

      Men all too frequently just don’t see it because it doesn’t happen to them.
      So they are much more likely to try to ascribe the phenomenon to some other possible contributing factor, because by virtue of the fact they’ve never experienced it, they don’t recognize it when they see it.

    • M-

      I inferred from her letter that she is relatively new – perhaps brand new – to her field yet placed in a position of authority over people with extensive experience in it. If this is is the case then I have experience that directly reflects that situation. While the gender of the newbie can certainly have second-order effects it’s not the driver of the respect level from those subordinates. That may change as she closes that experience gap, but I doubt that is what’s going on here.

      I repeat – if you are brand new to a field with no experience to back up your training you are not worthy of any special respect, regardless of your gender. In some cases you have to borrow some respect from your title until you earn it for yourself, but that’s a very limited line of credit and the interest rate is high. Anyone in that position would be well-served to accept the position they are in and lean pretty heavily on the wealth of experience in their subordinates without abdicating their duty to be the final decision-maker.

    • “While the gender of the newbie can certainly have second-order effects it’s not the driver of the respect level from those subordinates.”

      Jarrod –

      To acknowledge that gender can have any affect at all and only a few characters later propose that it may not be the full driver is your opinion and IMHO, a bit naive. Maybe in the military it is not the “driver of respect from subordinates,” because I’m certain that in the military respect is earned not given out, but it’s naive to think that women at all levels don’t have to prove themselves in a way that is much different than men are expected to. As a commenter above mentioned, women in various levels whether they’re Sheryl Sandberg or Ursula Burns are constantly being vetted no matter how much success they’ve achieved. I’d love for you to consider that it’s different for women, and maybe observe how women are treated in your workplace. The subtle things that are said, the way that they are challenged when speaking up about their opinion/methodology or what have you. Sit back and just watch. I hope that it might make you a bit more sympathetic to Lori and other women in your workplace. But I don’t know, hopefully your workplace is devoid of this type of bias.

      Beyond that, this is a false notion that maybe Lori isn’t getting respect because she hasn’t deserved it. The truth of the matter is that there is a baseline of respect that we should have for our colleagues, one that says with your training, you have done well to be where you are at this point. That doesn’t mean that you’re celebrated or that you get it easy. I simply believe that we have to be team players and help young people along the way not haze them.

    • Stacey-

      First let me be clear that I’m only talking about earning respect above that baseline you mentioned. I just don’t think that’s what Lori’s complaint is about.

      With so little information, it’s hard to draw real conclusions. But here’s how I saw her situation. She seems like a new doctor fresh out of medical school and is having trouble understanding her real place in the structure of wherever she is interning at. She is being asked to put her name on decisions – or at least act like she is making them – while under guidance from experienced doctors above her along with experienced nurses below. If I have read this wrong of course I would offer a different assessment, but let’s go forward assuming I have it pretty well right.

      Basically her position is too big for her right now. People in similar positions are still trainees. I was in a similar situation once. When I say that any possible sexism going on is not the main driver of her problem I mean that I would be surprised if it accounted for as much as an additional 1% of the difficulty of a male in her situation. To put it mildly, she hasn’t earned the right to blame others for her problem. It will do her no good to complain “BUT SEXISM!” when she’s in almost the exact same situation as a man would be.

      Bottom line is that she needs to take a different view of her station. Her people are a resource for her and frankly the organization probably values them much more highly than they do her. That will continue until she proves herself. The subordinates she doesn’t want to listen to can sink her career easily – either directly through feedback or sneakily through sabotaging her at no cost to themselves. I’ve seen that happen, too.

  8. I like to observer what gets respected int he circle and if I want to dominate that circle, I work hard to build and refine those attributes if I can. Listening to people who have succeeded in similar situation will help.

    Most importantly, if it about getting respect, give respect first. Respect is a two way street and you cannot expect respect if you don’t give any.

  9. Surprise people. Throw them off. I learned this trick by accident from a mathematician named Philip I used to live next to, who looked like a 1920s cartoon African tribesman (giant spiky hair, wild clothes, wide eyes), but spoke quickly, competently and about math with a British accent.

    Look a little funny. Talk a little funny. Cultivate it, if necessary. Have clearly contradictory attributes (e.g. high-pitched voice with a large body, or loud deep voice with a smaller body.)

    If they already have to stop, blink and think, “wait, what?” when they talk to you, they’re willing to do the same thing more easily a second time.

  10. Not that it’s fair, but unless we women learn to communicate with power, we often are unconsciously dismissed despite our expertise. Two helpful books are: How to Say it for Women (Mindell) and Giving Away Our Success (Schenkel). Like others have commented: communication and expert execution are key! Go Lori!

    • @Sarah – I’d like to hear more about this: “unless women learn to communicate with power.”

      What’s that look like? What’s that sound like?

      Most of the research I’ve read indicates that most co-workers (of both genders) do not want a woman who communicates like an alpha male. In what ways, based on your own research or the books you’ve recommended, can women communicate powerfully without communicating like men and/or alienating their colleagues?

      I’ll conclude with the fact that I’m empathetic to the plight of women in the workforce, but let’s assume things aren’t fair and that it’s taking us longer to achieve gender equality (in some respect) than many (particularly women) would like.

*