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Workplace Solutions

Respectful Workplace Toolkit

Welcome to the Respectful Workplace Toolkit. Here we provide you with aids to implement a targeted strategy to navigate and build a productive and healthy workplace culture. Keep checking back, as there will be updates frequently!

At Rutgers, we strive to epitomize President Holloway’s vision of a “Beloved Community”, establishing a university culture defined by tolerance, mutual respect, diversity, and the spirited exchange of opinions and ideas. People of all backgrounds should be able to enjoy mutual respect, collaboration, and an environment free from harassment. In addition to this, employees are reassessing their commitment to work and focusing on their overall mental, social, and physical wellbeing, both when we are together on campus and when we interact virtually.

So, what is a respectful workplace? It is a place where we:

  • Are intentional about how we interact as a community, both in person and virtually
  • Communicate in an open and civil way
  • Speak up and be an active bystander
  • Reflect on our own behavior and how it may be perceived / received by others
  • Respond to conflict in a productive and open way
  • Attend and engage in training to eliminate workplace harassment and discrimination
  • Report possible prohibited conduct
  • Address any dissatisfaction with Policies and procedures through appropriate channels
  • Cooperate with University investigations so that prohibited conduct is uprooted

Below is some guidance on how to manage workplace interactions in a way that supports a respectful workplace.

A Respectful Flexible Workplace

Working in flexible work environment where part of your time is spent in a remote work location can present special challenges. We’ve all been on Zoom meetings where it is clear someone is texting or answering emails rather than listening to the speaker. Perhaps you’ve discussed a sensitive topic only to see your co-worker’s family member or roommate appear in the background, and you realize your conversation was not as private or confidential as you thought. Has someone signed on to a virtual meeting in their pajamas, making you feel disrespected? Although it can be easy to slip into bad habits when you are not physically on campus, remember that you should conduct yourself with the same level of professionalism regardless of whether you are in the office or working remotely. Here are some things to consider:

  • Put your phone down! Would you pick up your cell phone and start responding to texts or answering emails if you were sitting across from the colleagues at a conference table? Absent extenuating circumstances, probably not. Don’t apply a different set of standards for a virtual meeting.
  • Email can wait. Attending a meeting from your computer means you probably have your email open during the call, and it can be very difficult to not check new messages as they appear. Try turning off the sound notifications so you are less distracted. And in some cases, it may even make sense to close Outlook altogether until your meeting is over. The main thing to remember is that you want to be just as an engaged as if you were attending the meeting in person.
  • Look presentable. How would you dress for this meeting if it was in person? Use that as a guide.
  • Eliminate other distractions. Turn off the TV that may be in the background rather than just muting it, and put your attention hungry pet in the other room. Make sure you’re your work area is free from other visual distractions. Your colleagues will appreciate that you’ve come ready and focused on the task at hand.
  • Be respectful of your colleague’s time. In a hybrid work environment you may find yourself utilizing text messages and emails more than ever before. Also, the line between work and home can become easily blurred. Remember to be respectful of other’s non-work time. If you are contacting someone during non-working hours, consider including in your message that you do not expect a response until regular work time. Or perhaps automatically delay the message until a time when most people are working.

For more helpful guidance, check out Returning to Rutgers: Leading Your Team in a Successful Transition Back to Campus on LinkedIn Learning.

Dealing with Criticism in a Constructive Way

Accepting criticism is never easy, but it is an important part of having a growth mindset and developing as a professional. Here are some tips for maximizing what you take out of receiving critical feedback:

  1. Don’t immediately react. Your first instinct may be to become defensive and argue, but instead try to just take in what you are hearing. Stay calm.
  2. Listen to understand. Do not interrupt but do ask the person to give specific examples so you can really get clarity on what they are saying.
  3. You can’t control how the message is delivered. Important feedback may not be conveyed in the best or most sensitive way. Don’t let that deprive you of an opportunity to pull useful information out of the message.
  4. Say thank you! Thanking the person for the information is putting your best foot forward and shows that you intend to use the feedback in a positive way.
  5. It’s okay to take time to digest. If you immediately have constructive ideas or perspective about what you have been told, great! But it’s perfectly ok to need time to think about what you have heard. Consider ending the meeting by asking for a follow up so you can have another discussion when you are better prepared.

In addition to these tips, check out these resources on LinkedIn Learning:

  • Learn to deal with Criticism with Ease
  • Interpersonal Communication
Apologizing Effectively

We all make mistakes. But offering a sincere apology can be a critical step in maintaining professional relationships and rebuilding trust. If you find yourself in the position of offering an apology, apply these steps:

  • Acknowledge personal responsibility;
  • Provide an explanation for when went wrong;
  • Offer a solution or a way forward;
  • Request forgiveness

Perhaps most important, remember that an apology is usually just the first step in the reconciliation process. It’s not a quick fix but rather movement on the right path. For more ideas on how to move forward after you’ve made a mistake, check out these resources on LinkedIn Learning:

  • Offering a needed apology
  • What to do when you’ve made a mistake
Email Exchanges

Email is an inescapable aspect of many workplaces and it can be a minefield of challenges. When writing or responding to an email, think about what you are trying to convey, as well as the tone you want to strike. Remember that you won’t be there to give context to the reader when they open your message, nor will they have the benefit of the inflexion of your voice or the expression on your face. An email you interpret as direct and to the point may come off as abrupt or rude to someone with a different perspective or email style. So, what can you do?

Try these strategies:

  • Think about the salutation. Do you want a more formal tone? Or something familiar? Your relationship with the recipient should dictate this.
  • Who needs to be copied? If you are scheduling a meeting, do you need to “reply all” with your availability, or just respond to the person coordinating? What’s your motivation for cc’ing someone’s supervisor? If they aren’t already on the email, should you add them? Critically assess these types of questions before hitting send.
  • Don’t send an email when you are angry. If something at work has made you angry or emotional, do not fire off an angry email in the heat of the moment. Take a breath, or perhaps even a full day, and reassess the message.
  • Consider a conversation. In our virtual world so much is done by email but don’t forget the value of picking up the phone and having a conversation instead. It may be faster, easier, and clearer than trying to put something into writing.

Also check out these resources on LinkedIn Learning:

  • Writing a productive email
  • Writing emails people want to read

You can also refer to this training from the Office of Workplace Culture: Office of Workplace Culture Email Best Practices

Navigating Difficult Conversations

You will inevitably have to share critical feedback with a co-worker, deliver news someone does not want to hear, deny a request, or otherwise have a difficult conversation at work. People understandably approach these interactions with dread – but if you have the right mindset and tools, things often go much better than you might have imagined.

Here are some ideas to make those conversations more successful:

  • Prepare, prepare, prepare! Think about what you want to say in advance but don’t feel you need a script. Instead, consider putting together bullet points or a rough outline to keep you on track. Feeling prepared will help you approach the conversation with a more positive mindset.
  • Don’t procrastinate. Putting the conversation off will likely just acerbate the problem you need to address and will make you more nervous.
  • Be positive. If you go into the conversation nervous and expecting a bad outcome, you are less likely to have a good result. Instead, expect a positive and productive experience and come to the discussion with confidence.
  • Do not get emotional. You may feel very strongly about what you are discussing, or the person’s response may frustrate you. Remember that the outcome will be more productive if you remain calm and conduct the conversation in an even tone.
  • Listen! Sometimes we psyche ourselves up so much to say difficult things, we forgot to really process the other person's response. Make sure to listen and have a dialogue rather than just plowing through.

In addition to these tips, check out these resources on LinkedIn Learning:

  • Navigating difficult conversations
  • The blueprint for a difficult conversation
Give Feedback In a Positive Way

Managers are often called upon to give feedback, but every member of the team can provide input to their co-workers on how to improve, whether through 360 reviews or simply by collaborating on projects. Here are some ideas on how to give feedback in a positive way:

  • Avoid the sandwich approach. Many people have heard of the tactic of giving a compliment before providing critical feedback and ending the conversation with another positive observation. However, recent studies indicate that “sandwiching” criticism in between compliments actually dilutes your message and leaves the recipient feeling confused. Rather, be direct and clear with your feedback. Be tactful and empathic, but don’t beat around the bush.
  • Focus on behavior, not personality. When giving someone a critique, use specific examples of behavior they can change. For example, instead of saying: “You are too argumentative and it’s hurting the team,” say “When you challenge me in front of a client, it makes it look like we are not on the same page and that’s not the perception we want to cultivate.”
  • Don’t repeat negative feedback. Use past experiences to provide examples but don’t harp or rehash things you have already discussed. If you keep bringing up the same errors or shortcomings, the recipient of the feedback will feel defeated and attacked. Make you’re your conversation is forward facing.
  • Remember to listen. Give the person an opportunity to respond after you have given your feedback. And be prepared for them to perhaps be defensive, at first. If they do not seem to have received the information in a positive way, suggest you table the discussion and meet in a day or two so they have time to process what they have been told.

In addition to these tips, check out these resources on LinkedIn Learning:

  • Characteristics of effective feedback;
  • Effective Coaching Feedback