And how to avoid them

The first thing my new boss did was mistake me for a student. It took almost ten minutes to convince him I was really a professor. The rest of our meeting didn’t go very well.

I left his office feeling diminished.

It was the beginning of an ugly relationship, one where I tried time and again to like him more and see things from his point of view. More and more, I just had to start going over his head.

I had to stop caring if I embarrassed him. Being nice just didn’t work. Neither did trying to reboot our rapport.

I had to start channeling my mean girl.

They say respect isn’t given — it’s earned. That’s half true. Everyone starts out with a base line of respect. From there, you can go up or down depending on how you treat everyone else.

Respect works like a lot of things. You build it from taking steps forward, but also by catching yourself from common missteps.

So here’s what to avoid.

Making assumptions about them

The biggest mistake you can ever make with someone is to underestimate them, and then voice what you’re thinking. Plenty of people ruin their first impression by guessing that someone’s beneath them, and then treating them like an inferior — while laying on the fake charm.

You can’t avoid assumptions completely. But what you can do is assume the best about someone. Assume they’re smarter, more experienced, and more qualified than you are.

It’s always easier to adjust down than up. When you first meet someone, always pretend they might be your boss.

Don’t treat someone like a rookie just because they didn’t walk in bragging about their latest accomplishments.

If you’re going to assume anything, assume there’s much more to them than meets the eye. Find out what that is.

Doing a 180 without explaining it

Nothing demolishes someone’s respect for you like saying one thing and then doing the exact opposite. This goes double if you pull this move without warning someone, or even acknowledging your reversal.

This is one of the most basic foundations of friendship and cooperation, and yet we flout it all the time.

Sometimes we walk into a meeting or a date with ideas, and halfway through want to flip everything we’d thought.

There’s nothing wrong with flipping an opinion — as long as you give reasons. Also, it helps to call a time out.

If someone was counting on you to have their back, and now they can’t, then just tell them. Honesty tends to put out fire on bridges. You can keep someone’s respect by telling them you’ve changed your mind, explaining why, and giving them a heads up.

Delegating everything you possibly can, badly

There’s responsible delegation, and lazy delegation. A lazy delegator unloads their work onto everyone else with no real conversation. They walk away and don’t do any follow-up. You can tell when someone delegates just because they don’t want to do something.

If you really want to tick someone off, tell them to delegate more when they come to you with complaints about their workload. Don’t show them how, or give them any tools for doing it.

And while you’re at it, give them something else to do.

Lazy delegators also pile more work on people by accident — by simply not understanding their own responsibilities. Everyone else does things for them, but they don’t get any thanks.

Done right, delegating makes your life easier and gives someone else a chance to take on more responsibility. Real delegation is actually more work than it looks like. You have to train and mentor the person. You have to oversee their work and check up on them. And if they let you down, you’re the one who has to step in and fix things.

Exaggerating your own accomplishments

Hyperbole isn’t your friend. This I learned from one of my uncles. If you tried to give him a compliment, he would talk about it for the rest of the day. He would make you regret saying anything.

One of the most misleading pieces of advice is to promote yourself. Lots of us get it wrong. The trick is to state your accomplishments — without overstating them. Use plain language.

Let other people act impressed.

And if they aren’t, then nothing you say or do in the moment will change that. Sometimes you have to impress someone by actually doing things. These are the ones worth impressing. It’s a simple concept: Anyone who has to tell you they’re a big deal… isn’t one.

Dropping the ball on a promise

Making promises and offering favors gains you respect in the short term. It’s always amazing how often people use them to build up their own egos, and then fail to deliver. They don’t even apologize.

If you want a quick way to alienate someone for good, offer them a favor and then forget about it.

Wait for them to remind you a few weeks later.

Then either retract the offer, or tell them you’re too busy now. Think up an excuse that makes you sound incredibly important. While you’re at it, make them feel bad for bothering you.

You might think it’s no harm, no foul to fall through on a favor. But you did hurt them. You saddled them with the emotional labor of waiting and wondering if you were going to make good on your offer. You allowed them to make tentative plans based on it. Then you practically tripped them, and then acted like it was their fault.

It’s not a great idea to offer unsolicited favors in the first place. It’s a better idea to wait, and then hedge. Try a maybe or I’ll see what I can do. If you really want to help someone, just do it. Tell them later.

Be careful with someone who offers bold favors. They probably don’t care a whole lot about you. They care more about how the favor makes them look, and they expect you to let them slide if it falls through.

Respect is counter-intuitive

The best way to earn respect is to give more than you think you deserve. Also, try not to confuse respect with other things.

That’s where a lot of people mess up.

Respect isn’t money, power, or influence. You don’t win respect by impressing someone you barely know with thinly-veiled bragging.

You do it by cultivating relationships, sometimes putting other people’s goals first, honoring your commitments, and letting everyone observe your actions and draw their own conclusions. The biggest secret to respect is to stop thinking about it so much.