Most of us believe that respect is an important value and that it is good. We do not normally think of respect as an action but as a feeling or judgment about other people.
To understand and distinguish respect it is important to recognize that language is fundamental to how we see the world. Language both opens possibilities and empowers us, or it closes possibilities and limits us.
If we say we respect someone, we are “looking" at the other person in a particular way — usually suggesting we are open to listen and honor each other’s views even if we disagree. If we say we don’t respect someone, we are generally closed to certain possibilities and conversations with them.
Likewise, if we have “self-respect” we are generally in a healthy internal conversation with ourselves. If we don’t respect ourselves, we will typically be stuck in all sorts of unproductive and unsatisfying "self-talk". If we say that something is possible to someone we respect, we will more than likely have a productive and satisfying dialogue. If we don’t respect them then we will more than likely be closed, not listen or in some cases disregard and dismiss them and their views outright.
‘Respect’ is just a word, but what it means and what it distinguishes for us can make all the difference in how we observe ourselves and others.
If we can create a culture in which respect is universal and an expression of our commitment to each other as human beings and how we choose to "look at each other", then we have a foundation for designing ways for collaboration and mutual empowerment that are simply not possible in the absence of authentic respect.
I believe that respect is the foundation for any serious discourse on coaching, leadership or building satisfying relationships with others. Without respect there are no possibilities for trust, sharing a vision, for empowerment or for creating powerful teams and organizations.
Respect (or lack of it) is a core aspect of any recurring conflict situation as well as an integral factor in most labour-management disputes. Many times, we use the term and our feelings about respect to in effect say, “You should agree with me and behave the way I want you to or it means you don’t respect me (or justifies my not respecting you) and therefore I can rationalize doing just about anything I want without concern for you”.
In an organizational or social context our judgments and level of respect become the basis for how we relate to other people on a day-to-day basis.
Respect is fundamental to human relationships (and relationship with self) is not a new idea. What is new is the inquiry into whether it is possible to respect people with whom we strongly disagree and whose actions and behaviour are inconsistent with what we value. We all use respect (or lack of respect) to determine how open we are, how trusting we are and how we choose to relate to others.
When we have negative judgments, our assessments become the justification to give or not give respect. In our everyday way of relating, we rarely notice that the judgments and assessments are one thing, and the conclusions and actions that follow are something else.
Respect can be seen as an action and that it is possible to create a culture in which people naturally and authentically respect each other. To do this, however, we need to consider how we are looking at people already. That is, we need to observe that we are normally judging others in terms of our own values and practices. Our baseline for assessing others is essentially what we happen to believe at a given moment. The implication of this has to do with whether we can take someone seriously if they don’t meet or match our standards and beliefs.
If we can’t take someone seriously then we never have the conversations which could make a difference in how we relate or what is or isn’t possible for us in the future. When this occurs we become trapped in a vicious cycle of judgment-lack of respect-reaction, and more judgment that justifies more lack of respect.
It is of course possible to partially finesse the issue by trying to separate the "human being" from his or her behavior… “I respect YOU, but don’t respect your behavior”.
I am suggesting that we must respect everyone if the idea of respect is to make any sense other than as a tool for judging and manipulating behavior. The reason for this is that the simple act of judging whether someone (including ourselves) is worthy of our respect is to separate us from the other person as a human being and assume a "superior" relationship to them.
As a coach, I am always relating to a person in two domains….one is who I say they are as a possibility, the other is who they are in a context of my judgments and their history. My choice is in which context I will relate to them. If I relate to another in a context of possibility then our work together is about their commitments, creating breakthroughs and producing unprecedented results. If I relate to them in a context of their past and my assessments then the game typically becomes about me analyzing their behavior and attempting to "fix" or control them.
Creating a culture of respect begins with a commitment to seeing everyone as worthy of respect. In a culture of respect there will be more straight talk (especially of negative assessments) because we respect each other. In a culture of respect — all sorts of relationship issues, differences and lack of alignment become positive forces for change, not justifications for the status quo.
Human beings will always have judgments about themselves and others. It doesn’t matter whether our judgments are positive or negative since no judgment is ever true or false anyway, no matter how many may agree or disagree with it.
Respect is one of many values we seek to "enculturate" in our organizations. Like all values it cannot be legislated or regulated into existence. It can be learned, it can be coached and leaders everywhere can demonstrate it.
Creating a culture of respect doesn’t solve problems or predict any particular behavior. It does, however, shift the context, our consciousness and the organizational paradigm in such a way as that we need not sacrifice our relationships in moments of conflict and fear. Moreover, when we respect others, we are able to consider our own responsibility for our disagreements and differences and most of all we can engage in dialogues to create a future in which everyone is included without perpetuating reactive cycles of distrust, resentment and acrimony….a future based on respect.