Granting People Their Dignity


DelRosario, John S, and Donna Hicks. 2012. “Granting People Their Dignity”. Copy at

Date Published:

Apr 4, 2012


Full Text

My work has brought me up close to leaders of all sorts. There's one thing they share: highly developed technical and intellectual capacities, most of whom are educated in colleges and universities between Guam, Hawaii, and the US mainland.

They also share something else: leadership challenge and how they navigate emotionally charged situations. For all their technical expertise, they lack confidence when dealing with outraged subordinates; those who feel they were treated unfairly or the inconsistency of the boss who says one thing and does the exact opposite.

Unacknowledged grievances change the attitude of these folks into fighting men and women who'd snap at the slightest insult, even from co-workers. In other words, their bosses don't know what to do when faced with people who have experienced repeated violations of their dignity, which are by definition highly charged emotional events, explained Donna Hicks, PhD, an associate at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University and author of Dignity: The Essential Role It Plays in Resolving Conflict.

“Their default reaction is often to use their authority and the power of their position to control the situation, often leaving the aggrieved people angrier, more resentful, and less willing to extend themselves in their jobs or their roles within an organization. The dignity violations remained unaddressed, contaminating the work environment. A reason why the default reaction is to exert authority and control over a volatile emotional situation is that they are afraid of it. They are especially fearful of being exposed and embarrassed by a bad move or a flawed policy for which they were responsible,” according to Dr. Hicks.

“I have seen otherwise brilliant leaders get caught in all of the predictable traps that ignorance of how to best handle dignity violations creates. They are not bad people who deliberately try to make life difficult for those whom they lead; they simply are clueless how to navigate through emotional turmoil. Without an education in matters related to dignity, a most vulnerable aspect of being human, even technically gifted and well-intentioned leaders can unknowingly create an undignified work environment.

“The need has never been more urgent for people in leadership positions to be educated in all matters related to dignity; both the human vulnerability to being violated, and the positive effect it has on people when they feel seen, heard, understood, and acknowledged as valuable and worthy.

“The emotional impact of treating someone well and honoring their dignity has benefits that are incalculable. It's the easiest and fastest way to bring out the best in people. The opposite is equally as true: treat people as if they don't matter and watch how fast a destructive, if not violent, emotional storm erupts.

“Leading with dignity means that leaders recognize this; that they are willing to embody what it looks like to treat others as valuable, to know what to do with people when they have been violated, and to know what to do when they have violated them. Establishing a culture of dignity in the workplace would go a long ways.”

Personally, I've pushed people to the hilt, not that I want to be mean-spirited but to bring out the best in them. They may have seen it otherwise. For instance, I've encouraged former employees to take up courses at NMC to upgrade their skills and eventually place their AAs under their belt. An AA degree would soon become the minimum requirement in future jobs. It's the only reason why I've pushed for the acquisition of lifetime skills.

Definitely, the attitude of royal misfits could be found in some government employees. They neglect the fact that it is taxpayers who pay for their salaries. Yet there's the acquired attitude of arrogance as though it is taxpayers who owe them an arm and a leg. No sir! It's the other way around, like it or not.

Excuse me, sir, how about some sense of common decency and courtesy? How about going the extra mile to assist those who come for help? Do taxpayers owe you their livelihood? Why the arrogance and fiesta de la mañana when we are paying for your biweekly loot? Isn't it time that you buckle down and fulfill your duties and responsibilities?

In all interactions, personal dignity is the most important aspect of any and all employees. I will not rob them of it given that they have earned their stripes. In short, they have earned the respect of others, respect being a two-way street; grant them generously. I'd rather talk with them rather than to them. Respect, after all is reciprocal, never commanded nor demanded. At the end of the day, a happy worker goes the extra mile to do his best, contributing generously to the overall goals and objectives of the organization.

Need for desk audit

As scarce government revenues slide deeper south, it becomes mandatory that the local government seek desk audits of all departments and agencies to determine where real cuts ought to be made. You'd be surprise what this audit could reveal upon completion.

It probes positions and the qualifications of employees, demonstrating in no uncertain terms real qualifications or the lack of credentials and experience. It recommends cuts in salaries where qualifications are lacking. It may not be met with big smiles from employees, but this is how we build credibility into the merit system. You want a certain salary you must earn it and not be a beneficiary of political corruption at the expense of other equally deserving employees.

It also ensures retaining a truly qualified cadre of public servants fully aware of their roles in assisting the needs of the general public.

A desk audit was performed at the Department of Public Land six years ago. It shows how unbridled salary spikes have violated certain laws like there's no tomorrow. When the desk audit came, I implemented it accordingly, much to the displeasure of those who were making tons of money illegally. It obviates strengthening the merit system. It's the fairest way to earn your stripes and dues.

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Indeed, how pleasant it is meeting highly motivated and fully trained employees in private industries, i.e., banks, hotels, or the service industry. I am proud of these employees who flash common courtesy as they assist you in your need. When it's done, they simply say, “Have a nice day.” We don't hear nor see common courtesy in government other than a constipated “hafa adai.” Embarrassing, huh?

Last updated on 02/04/2014