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Respect | How can we understand each other?

A recent work visit at a café made me ponder on respect – what it is, what it embodies, expressed privately as well as practiced in the workplace. I reflect on whether there should be a distinct situational or environmental difference, or if it’s frankly about making choices, about building strong, healthy relationships – about taking the lead.

This article is an excerpt from the forthcoming book ”Transcending Business” by Therese M. Sandberg. Want to know more? Follow or connect here. I would love to heare from you!

Copyright © 2022 ENTERPRISE PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT. All rights reserved.

“Attitude is a choice. Happiness is a choice. Optimism is a choice. Kindness is a choice. Giving is a choice. Respect is a choice. Whatever choice you make makes you. Choose wisely.” ― Roy T. Bennett

What is it that you don’t understand? vs. How can I help you understand?

Sitting at one of my favorite cafés working. Next to me, there’s a couple in their mid 30’s. The woman is eager to explain something in relation to a money transfer. She is clearly irritated, asking her man harshly ”What is it that you don’t understand?”. The man gets all flushed, red-cheeked. He is looking my way while trying to block her irritation by hurriedly responding; ”Let me have a look!”. She hands over her iPhone, sighing in frustration. Still he is looking my way somewhat embarrassed over the conversation that he’s sure I have overheard. He is right, I have.

The conversation in disagreement continues and both of them are now lowering their voices as they continue to argue for a good couple of minutes. He clearly doesn’t want to continue the conversation in this manner, so he looks at her closely, then softly asks her with a warm loving voice; ”How can I help you understand?”.

What a wonderful way to turn the conversation around respectfully, I think to myself while smiling internally! It is clear that he respects his woman.

After a while, she leaves the café, evidently content as they have worked out their previous disagreement. He silently, with a soft smile on his lips, starts tapping his computer. I return to tapping mine, wondering about respect – what it is, what it embodies, both expressed privately as well as practiced in the workplace. Is there, or should there be a distinct difference? In what way is respect best expressed? Here’s a short version of my thoughts.

What is respect?

Respect signifies the value you attribute another person and it is responsive to its character. The level and depth of respect expressed sets the value of a relationship and consists of several key elements including (in)attention, (non)judgment, (dis)trust, (de)value, (mis)behavior and acknowledgment.

Respect is expressed as behavior, or as embedded in the attitude we hold in regard to another person, group or organization. The concepts’ overall constitution holds our attitudes, beliefs and our emotions – and leads, as a consequence thereof, to be conducted as to the level of respect we express to another human being. Respect expressed is also a matter of norms, and norms are formulated, embedded and expressed as attitudes and behavior in our families, societies, countries, and in our organizations. In our world. Through and between people.

In its utmost expression, it’s incompatible with any form of depreciating emotion, behavior or attitude – since in respect we honor another being unconditionally, Without prejudice. Respect has no boundaries.

Respect = Diversity

The way we perceive respect, or feel respected, is often associated with the right to be heard, consciously and seriously listened to, viewed as an equal no matter who you are. No matter your skin color, age, origin, gender, business level, sexual orientation, belief, educational level or perspective. Respect is applicable through and between people, is responsive and interpersonal. Respect can be viewed as an equal to understanding, accepting, recognizing and appreciating the value of diversity.

Any organization is benefitting from relationships built on diversity and mutual respect. The tricky part is often associated with why it’s so hard to build a respectful organizational environment and how to maintain it. When the company culture is set out to focus the all-important skills and abilities of its employees and acknowledges mere talent, the issue of diversity and differentiation is far more likely to become a non-factor.

To further clarify, I share some short advice into the how of integrating and maintaining an inclusive respectful organizational environment:

  1. Integrate trust, honesty, and respect into the corporate strategy breakdown and in value principles. Link the same to specific measurable targets to be met. Make sure to definewhat trust, honesty, and respect represent for your organization. Share and formulate as a commitment on all levels. Commit to being the best – as people, as co-workers – and consequently as an organization.
  2. Create a collegial atmosphere by implementing an inclusive culture in the organization. Begin with formulating appropriate leadership behavior and design a clear follow-up procedure where specific, measurable targets and behavior are formulated to be met.
  3. Create a clear focus on the abilities and skills of employees. Value talent and level of expertise as a central company feature. Be sure to commit and hold each other accountable to “walk the walk and talk the talk”.
  4. Take part in each other’s talents, skills, and abilities. Make sure to schedule knowledge transfer in an open and including work environment. Share generously.
  5. …and finally, repeat, repeat and repeat. Practice makes perfect!

Among organizational synergy effects to be expected – following the advice shared – are increased collaboration, cooperation, communication, trust, employee engagement, an improvement of healthy productive relationships, and reduced workplace conflicts. As a logical extension the overall important productivity, effectivity and quality measures will beneficially increase.

An invitation regarding Leadership and Respect best expressed

As a leader of other people, you have the responsibility to be consciously aware of your behavioral patterns and how they affect others.

You also have the privilege to set the tone in the organization. The privilege to set an example of behavior to follow. A behavior to be proud of, which in itself leads to a conscious culture, engaged employees, reduced employees’ turnover – and as a consequence thereof – increased effectiveness and ROI. Respect reaps profitability and should, therefore, be considered as one of the core values of the organization.

What about the benefits?

To value and understand respectful behavior as the foundation of all relationships will not only increase your trust level as a leader, it will also help you maintain the influence and the message you are trying to convey as part of your role in the organization. But remember, your role as a leader in the organization is to deliver value beyond yourself. Deliver value that transcends your personal beliefs, attitudes, and emotions – that transcends and transforms the organization into a strategy, goal, value, and relationship oriented unity.

Because as long as a ”me-perspective” is the primary focus of your actions, the ”we-perspective” will be secondary and hence behavior that promotes teamwork and a unifying ”we-mentality” will stand un-prioritized to your disadvantage.

Now you might wonder what it is that you as a leader have to do in order to best express respect? The answer holds the capability of being self-aware, emotionally balanced, and that you have to take responsibility for your attitudes, behavior, emotions, and reactions. It is all about your ability to consciously respond. About your response-ability in the meaning of your ability to respond to an emotion or a situation appropriate for your task at hand. Leaving the ”me-perspective” out of your logical and emotional reasoning.

When your awareness level arises you’ll be able to respond and reach decisions beyond yourself and your own desires, feelings or goals to the advantage of your organization.

…and it’s about your own quality

Before I conclude, I want to leave you with some food for thought.

When we show respect towards another human being, it is about the expression of our own quality as a person. Don’t get me wrong. To show respect is an expression of the quality I accredit my fellow human beings, but it is with absolute certainty about the quality of me myself as a person. A disrespectful behavior illustrates another quality than a respectful behavior does. The question for you to answer is; ”Does my behavior reflect the quality and the standard I want to accredit myself?”.

I also would like you to consider if there should be a distinct situational or environmental difference as a basis for the way we show respect and how it should or could be best expressed? In my opinion, respect is better expressed when asked; ”How can I help you understand?” rather than asking; ”What is it that you don’t understand?” – no matter the environment or situation. The latter embodies a more arrogant flavor as opposed to an inviting problem-solving question as in ”How can I help you?” – which in itself has a higher probability to lead to a positive outcome as both parties are given the opportunity to share their opinion.

Try it out and let us know how you progress!

In conclusion…

Respect is the foundation upon which strong and healthy relationships can be built. Respect is to understand that in relationships there is no I, nor you. There is us. By focusing on us, rather than I, a whole new approach to relationships is built. One of mutual understanding. With mutual understanding comes respect and trust.

In the end, it is all about ”How can I help you understand?”. About ”How can I understand how I can help you understand?”. About making the choice to take the lead. With respect.

Readers: How do you as a leader express respect in your day-to-day routine? In what way is respect incorporated into the value principles of the organization? And is there an environmental or situational difference in your way of expressing respect?

Inspiration: Kofman, F., (2006).

Copyright © 2022 ENTERPRISE PERFORMANCE MANAGEMENT. All rights reserved.


This article is an excerpt from the forthcoming book ”Transcending Business”, by Therese M. Sandberg – experienced Leader, Author, and Leadership & Organizational Developer. Further information regarding how Therese can be helpful as a leader in your organization, follow or connect with Therese Sandberg on LinkedIn here. I would love to hear from you! For those who speak Swedish; articles on the topic of organizational culture and leadership are found here.

Whenever hired or consulted, I commit to leading and coaching compassionately, using my knowledge and wisdom to inspire and empower others with the courage and strength necessary to cope with the challenges that the leadership role encompasses. My mission is to help the company become profitable, and to my advantage, I hold the conviction that there is no gap between being profitable and being consciously aligned with the purpose of the company. To put wisdom into practice, I will advocate for combining knowledge and experience with powerful, creative thinking.

Leadership qualities

Respect equals diversity and inclusion

WRITTEN BYTherése M. Sandberg

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