For those in pursuit of increased organizational effectiveness, there’s a new game in town. Respect. And given the demographic shifts impacting the North American workplace, it makes perfect sense. Over the past several years, there have been dozens of articles written that suggest organizations can achieve higher levels of productivity, raise morale and, subsequently, retain more of their best employees when they have cultures anchored in respect. When you’re able to consistently attract and retain the best employees, you become a learning organization. This, in turn, fosters adaptability. But it’s pretty hard to intelligently process and adapt to business environment changes when your best employees don’t feel valued and are shopping their resumes.
There’s also a connection between personal success and how we treat and are treated by others. When a person works in an organization where respectful behaviors are the norm, a couple things happen. First, it reduces the inherent stress that comes from working with people who have different backgrounds, lifestyles, beliefs and opinions. Reduced stress tends to increase individual productivity and, just as importantly, creativity. When we’re more productive and more creative, we gradually increase our value to the organizations for which we work. Not only does that enhance our job security, it also leads to a more enjoyable work experience overall. How much is that worth these days?
There’s also the advantage of increased support from others. As we pursue success – whatever that happens to be for us – we’ll never be able to leverage all the assistance that’s available to us from other people if we don’t leave a trail of respectful behaviors behind us. Whether it’s emotional assistance, intellectual assistance or, in some cases, financial assistance, people tend to help those who treat them with respect, dignity and appreciation. The reputations that we create with our behaviors and our treatment of others travel very far and are extraordinarily long-lasting.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, I’m sure most of us believe that we’re more respectful than our behaviors would sometimes indicate. I’d like to offer some suggestions for consistently treating others with respect.
For starters, we have to work through a natural bias that almost all people have – an insatiable need to be “right”. Most of us wake up every morning with predominant beliefs about the way the world is, the way other people are, and the way we are. The number one thing we try to do all day long is protect and validate those beliefs. We read the newspaper, watch television and interact with others, but we’re always on the lookout for evidence that supports what we already believe to be true. That’s where the problem lies. If I’m always trying to protect and defend what I already believe, that makes it very difficult for me, or anyone else, to take in new information and improve the quality of my decisions and actions. It also makes it nearly impossible for me to interact in a truly respectful manner with others who may happen to see the world differently than I do. Controlling the need to be right isn’t easy, but it’s essential for treating others with respect.
So how do we do it? We start by forcing ourselves to delineate between those parts of our “truth and reality” that are based on knowledge and those parts that are based on beliefs. We must to learn to treat the two areas differently! Most people go through the day with their knowledge and beliefs in one big bucket and act as though they were the same thing… but they’re not.
Knowledge is fact-based information that can be supported by hard evidence or proof. Beliefs, by their very definition, are different. As strongly as they tend to be held, they can neither be proved nor disproved. This means that my beliefs are no more valid for someone else than their beliefs are for me. If we treat people poorly or defensively simply because they don’t share the same beliefs that we do, we’re acting both disrespectfully and ignorantly. Our behaviors toward others ought to communicate that we offer the same deference and respect for their beliefs as we do for our own. You don’t have to share someone else’s beliefs to respect them.
Here’s a suggestion: Before every interaction with someone else, ask yourself, “If I act in accordance with my beliefs, will that hinder this person’s ability to do the same?” If the answer is yes, you may want to consider a different course of action.
Allowing others to think and live as they choose is not only the hallmark of respect, it’s a source of wisdom. By making room for other people’s “truths” to co-exist with our own, we expand our awareness. Over time, this allows us to make smarter decisions and take wiser actions.