Mostly people start invariably from the bottom – except for a blessed few! From my own experiences so far, I have seen and observed that the concept of respect keeps changing at various levels.
Twenty years back, I started working with an ice-cream brand. I used to address everyone “sir” – the immediate supervisor (who at the every opportunity will go out of office at any pretext to be with his brother to aid him in Auditing assignments), the drunkard Junior accounts executive (whom I later came to know as a school drop out), the Fatty Cashier ( who will keep on counting more than ten times even if it is Rs 300 that he is disbursing ) and an angry assistant production manager (who threw his weight around by shouting at everyone for no reason – Later, I came to know that GM production did not rate him highly and because of this, this assistant production manager was suffering from low self-esteem. His throwing weight around must have served him therapeutically).
The demonstration of too much respect helps one initially. When one starts without any working experience, there is no pre-conceived notion of superiority in one self. It is easy to get along with people at any level then, by demonstrating a lot of respect externally. As one grows in the career, some sort of expertise is acquired in whatever function one focuses on. By that time, one’s individual value systems decide how he shows his respect towards the senior and junior colleagues.
If one is a practical career-oriented person and an insecure one in heart, then he gives the superiors too much respect and over-does it to the point of embarrassment to others. One of my ex-colleagues (with whom I am still maintaining contact) went to the extent that he used to carry the GM Marketing’s personal luggage when he accompanied on any official tours. He is now a GM in a tea exports company. I feel sorry for the guys who would be working under him now. They must be carrying his weight – both figuratively and literally!
In some industries such as advertising, IT etc, I have heard that the environment is very informal. So the employees are encouraged to call any colleague on a first name basis, irrespective of the hierarchy. I have not had the opportunity of working is any such organizations, except on one occasion when I was working for a Foreign company. It was about ten years back. I had a few Indian colleagues working with me. We used to find it very difficult to address our Chairman plainly as Lee (His full name was Stanley Lee). My colleague and friend – Dhiraj Bansal – who is from Delhi – forgetfully addressed him as “Lee Saab” once. Mr. Lee said – “I don’t own a Saab, Dhiraj. I drive Mercedes”.
In my present organization, I see that all managers are called sir by everyone. I find this too strange considering that Indian corporate scene had undergone so much cultural change in the recent times.
Many times the garb of respect is worn when one is low on competency and confidence. The VP (who is almost 5 levels senior to me in hierarchy) always addresses me as Mr. Raman in his emails. Ditto while talking over phone also. I told him a few times that he can call me without adding Mr as prefix. He replied – “I am always trained to give respect to all people who I work with”…..hmm….immediately after saying this, he called B for something – not as Mr., but on B’s first name. So VP has communicated something to me through this – “Do not expect me to be friendly with you, Mr. Raman.” So respect also acts as a tool of disdain – if one does not want to become informal and to keep colleagues at a distance.
B is little weirder. B communicates minimally with me, thereby not allowing me to know him clearly. However I do get glimpses to his “real” personality at times. Whenever I call him on phone for official matters, he starts the conversation with a predictable sentence – “Raman Saab, hukm kariye” which roughly means “Mr. Raman, I am at your command”. This sounds so shallow. Such phrases hide people’s real faces and intentions. No, actually they give out the signals which we can decode – “Please do not come close to me. Tell me only what you want me to do. I shall do it if it is convenient”.
Last time I spoke to B, the conversation started with the customary I am at your command. I asked if I could get an action plan for one of the projects which we were working on. He said I cannot get it, as the computer systems at the factory is down and is not expected to be in order for several hours. After I had put the receiver down, I immediately received an e-mail from B – a forward mail which he had sent to all his contacts (it seems that he had included me also in his mailing lists…..I am lucky!). His forward mail contained the image of some saint whose Samadhi is located somewhere near Rishikesh. The mail instructed its recipients to forward the image to at least 8 people. I acted as if I am at B’s command and immediately forwarded the mail to 8 of my contacts.