When unsure how to treat others, use respect as the baseline

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We don't know who eventually becomes a gear or the key of an important place we need to get in. Do not burn bridges.

What you need to know:

  • My career growth has been intertwined with that of others; whether  they were telling me about an opportunity, or putting in a good word for me where it mattered most.
  • Being respectful is important not just because  it is more about you than it is about the other people.

I recently had a conversation with my friend Cate. She told me one of her colleagues will be completing her internship at the end of the year. Cate suspects that this particular colleague has been offered a job at a different company and she imagines everyone she works with currently, including her bosses, do not matter.

According to Cate, this is the only logical explanation she can come up with to explain her colleague’s sudden loss of respect for her supervisors – she is working so hard to burn bridges with her current colleagues and bosses.

Model employee

“Chic is not even respecting her contract terms, so even though she is expected to work until the last day of this year, she is not honouring that. I think what is confusing for me is that throughout her internship over the past six months, she has been a model employee—dutiful, respectful and dependable. I would never have thought there was this side to her,” Cate said.

Listening to Cate’s story made my blood go cold because when I look back at the six or so years of my career, I can’t help but notice just how intertwined my career growth has been with that of others; whether this was them telling me about an opportunity that matched my career goals, or putting in a good word for me where it mattered most. These people would, understandably, not care that much about me or my career if I was disrespectful to them in previous interactions.

Now, I can think of several reasons why anyone could imagine they will not need someone again and so treat them disrespectfully, as the case of Cate’s friend. Maybe you feel that these people were not kind to you, maybe you just never liked them and were tolerating them because you had no choice… or maybe, and the most likely one, is that you lack wisdom, which is dangerous if you are trying to build a successful career. We also have different personalities, which means we experience and respond to life in different ways.


My take is that being respectful is important not just because of what you stand to gain from it, but because it is more about you than it is about the other people.  I mean, if you are comfortable disrespecting people just because you have more money than them, or work in a better position than the other, you should consider fixing that.

Do not start well, like Cate’s colleague, and then burn what would have been important professional networks because of disrespect.

An epilogue: Further reflections of the year that has been

Twenty-twenty-three is the year I finally summoned enough courage to order something that cost me more than Sh1,000 online. This has nothing to do with trust issues, and I know I am probably letting down my digital generation – I wholeheartedly apologise. As much as possible, I prefer to mitigate my risks, which means that whenever possible, I only place an order after I physically examine something. That said, I plan to do a bit more online shopping next year – I will tell you how that goes.

Seen growth

This is also the year I stepped into serious corporate leadership. The first few weeks after I took up my role were frightening. Everything seemed intimidating, including the choice of words by my seasoned, more experienced colleagues, who I had to sit in meetings with many times. I am still a work in progress but I am starting to feel confident in my own voice, I have learned to trust that I deserve a sit at the big table, and have learned to speak even when my voice is shaking and threatens to stop suddenly.

I have grown through that. In all these, there have been people encouraging me, cheering me on and their belief in me was an important cog for successfully navigating through this season. And more than ever, I understand the importance of having career pillars.

The new connections I have made professionally this year are also completely linked to my existing connections; the opportunities I have had and achievements would not have happened without the people I already knew and had interacted with.

There have been people at every turn – guiding me forward, shining light and acting as my pillars. The most intriguing part? We have no way of fully knowing who eventually becomes a gear or the key of an important place you need to get in. The rule of thumb becomes simple: Treat people with respect.

The writer is the Research & Impact Editor, NMG