Want Respect? Practice Humility

Posted by Todd Smith

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R.E.S.P.E.C.T.—everybody wants it, but not everybody gets it.

Have you ever heard an athlete complain, “I don’t get the respect I deserve”?  This person is unaware that respect is not a gift; it is something you must earn. We might admire him for his skill, or envy his million-dollar salary, but we respect the athlete for the attitude he or she exhibits on the field or court, during an interview, or in daily life.

What is that attitude that quickly wins respect? Humility—a modest view of one’s own importance!  An attitude of humility is one of the most significant predictors of someone who is respected.

Arrogance Is the Opposite of Humility

In order to adopt the habits and behavior patterns of humility, it’s important to recognize its evil nemesis—arrogance.  Very few things damage one’s reputation quicker than arrogance. Here are some common phrases people use that reveal a prideful, arrogant attitude:

  • Geez, do I have to do everything around here?
  • If I don’t toot my own horn, no one else will.
  • Let me handle it. No one can do it better than me.

In themselves, these words may not seem so bad, but remember that arrogance is an attitude—a negative one. Individuals who say these kinds of things act in a way that sends a signal to those around them that they believe they are superior to everyone else.

For example, arrogant people often push others aside because they believe they are the only ones qualified to get things done the right way; they speak in ways that put down or disparage others; they take every opportunity to boast about their own accomplishments; and they project an obvious air of trying hard to appear cool.

Self-Confidence or Humility

You don’t have to sacrifice self-confidence to practice humility. When we start to talk about humility, one of the primary objections of driven people is the fear of not appearing confident enough. I will assure you that adopting an attitude of humility does not require you to sacrifice your self-confidence or the confidence you project.

To clarify this, let’s look at the definitions of both confidence and humility.

  • Confidence is a self-assurance arising from an appreciation of one’s true abilities.
  • Humility is having a modest opinion or estimate of one’s own importance or rank.  It’s about being open to the possibility of improvement.

There’s no reason why these two character traits can’t coexist. In fact, when they do, it’s hard to find a more powerful combination. In Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t, author Jim Collins gives the example of David Packard, co-founder of Hewlett-Packard, as a humble leader who offers this sage advice:

“You shouldn’t gloat about anything you’ve done; you ought to keep going and find something better to do.”

As co-founder of one of the most successful companies in the U.S., you can bet that Packard is a confident individual, but that doesn’t preclude him from practicing humility.

Admittedly, finding the right balance between confidence and humility can be tough—especially for entrepreneurs and people in sales whose livelihood depends on marketing themselves and relying on their accomplishments to obtain future business. In these instances, deciding what information to present and how to present it is paramount. The key is to do so without coming across as egotistical.

Tips for Communicating Both Confidence and Humility

  • Let your prior record, actions, and associates speak for you.  Avoid what would sound like boasting about yourself or your accomplishments.
  • Limit the times that you speak freely about yourself and your achievements to those occasions when you are communicating the value you bring to a personal or business relationship.
  • Consider how you can communicate your message in a way that does not sound like bragging.

Practicing Humility Is a Lifelong Endeavor

By its very nature, humility is not an attitude we ever perfect. It’s a practiced trait that requires constant monitoring, especially since arrogance—egotism, superiority, conceit— is always tugging at our human nature.

Nobel Prize winner Rabindranath Tagore describes both the benefits and practice of humility well: “We come nearest to great when we are great in humility.”

If you desire to adopt or grow in your practice of humility, avoid speaking about yourself in a proud or conceited manner.  Share your accomplishments in a modest, positive way when requested or necessary.

When it is necessary, such as when you need to sell yourself or your services, remember to communicate your message in a way that remains focused on your client or customer and what you can do for them, not just on what you can do.

When you practice humility, you gain the respect of others. Respect brings with it a number of rewards such as more satisfying relationships, broader influence, and a number of employment-related benefits like raises, promotions, and increased sales.

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About the Author:

Todd Smith is a successful entrepreneur of 34 years and founder of Little Things Matter. To receive Todd’s lessons, subscribe here. All Todd’s lessons are also available on iTunes as downloadable podcasts.


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