The Power of Respect

As an executive and team coach and organization development consultant, I have continually found a core challenge is that people don’t feel respected and don’t have the skills to effectively talk with each other about their concerns. As a third party, I can see where each person’s view makes sense to them. It is so easy to interpret actions as disrespectful and a cascade of reactions creates a negative and untrustworthy environment. The tension takes energy away from productivity and meaningful impact.

A study found that disrespect made people feel less motivated. 68% cut back on their work efforts; 80% lost time worrying about the behavior and 12% left their job. (Porath, 2016, Mastering Civility).  Other studies showed that those who witness disrespect also have significant decreases in performance (Porath & Erez, 2009). Another study found that those who are seen as respectful were twice as likely to be viewed as leaders and performed significantly better.

Emotions are contagious. Disrespect spreads quickly through a team, family, or community. Everyone wants to feel respected and it can spread too if we each do our part to intentionally create an open, positive and welcoming environment.

It is useful to recognize our natural implicit bias. We are primed to see us and them.  Our body releases hormones that lead us to trust those who are more like us. We easily attribute negative motives to those who appear to be different. We can intentionally widen our circles to include a broader group. We can set our intention to be open to others including those with different views, styles and appearance.

We know that we can build neural pathways that support us in being kind and respectful. I set the intention to take an open stance each day. A simple action is to develop your curiosity muscle. I encourage workshop participants to practice saying, “I am curious… tell me more about….  With a genuine open mindset and interest in others, they report amazing results. This simple intention allows people to be heard and valued—something we all need to feel respected.

Another practice suggested by Valerie Kaur is to begin to see people as “no stranger”. As you see people you don’t know, allow yourself to be curious and open to them. She internally calls them brother, sister, aunt, and uncle as she sees people. We can bring people into our inner circle. With this habit we can rewire our brains to see no stranger.

When we are open, we recognize that everyone is facing life’s challenges and we are in this together.

I encourage leaders and teams I work with to reflect on what helps them to feel respected and what they are doing to uplift others. It is often simple things that make a difference in helping people to feel valued, appreciated and heard. Consider thanking people, sharing credit, acknowledging others, showing interest, giving empathy, and greeting others in a friendly tone.

It is easier to connect with others when we find commonalities. Consider looking for at least three areas that you have in common with others. It could be areas of interest, the kinds of things you do for fun, the shows you enjoy or that you are dealing with aging parents or trying to garden, that you studied at the same school, etc. Enjoy learning more about each other.

How could our workplaces, homes and communities change if we each made the commitment to be open to others and to show respect?  Consider the following actions:

  • Reflect and share what actions help you to feel respected and the actions you are taking to lift others up by being respectful.
  • Identify areas of commonality with others to support connection.
  • Envision expanding your circle of us.

Take an Open Stance in the Face of Polarization

No doubt, you are experiencing the challenges of polarization. Family members, coworkers, and community participants are dumbfounded by people with different views.  People are severing relationships with those on different sides of views on mask-wearing, climate policy, structural injustice, health care and economic strategies.

We truly wonder how people can be seeing things so differently. We see no common ground.  We are getting different facts from different news sources and the algorithms of social media usher in views that help to solidify our perspectives.  Confirmation bias strengthens our neural pathways and we believe we are right. Others in our circle further strengthen our view and enhance the polarization.

The last thing we want to do is engage in open-minded conversations. Yet, this is what is needed more than ever. I encourage leaders I coach and those in my workshops to consciously work to expand their experiences and knowledge. We each naturally have blind spots and we see the world through our background conditioning. If you only listen to one brand of media, you will continue to confirm your view. Sure, that is comforting. However, we need leaders who will take an open stance and listen and work to understand where others are coming from and what they are seeing.  In my experience, when we engage in conversations with the intent to give, empathy and understanding solutions often readily emerge.

How do we take an open stance? First, we need to make the intention to be open. Then when we are surprised or angered by a different point of view, we need to recognize our judgment signal and stop, step back and cool down.  If you look closely you will find a somatic signal such as a tightening in your stomach or chest. You can cool down by simply taking a few deep breaths, taking a walk, engaging in something that relaxes you, etc. The key is to know how to shift into an open curious state. There are many ways to do this. One that I prefer is to recall a time when I was open such as when being in nature or with a loved one. With this simple move your body shifts to being open. You will feel more receptive and so will your previous opponent.

Emotions are contagious. When others sense that you are actually open to understanding, you are likely to engage in an interesting and meaningful conversation. I share more about how to have positive and productive conversations in my book, blog and course called OASIS Conversations. Ideally, we shift from the arid desert of polarization to the aliveness and possibility of an oasis.

Commit to an open stance and engage in conversations to create shared solutions.