Have you ever heard people proudly exclaim that they are color blind? Or, more broadly, that they treat everyone the same? While that sounds great on the surface (think of Golden Rule), the actual premise for that notion is antiquated at best. At its worst, it can be downright disrespectful. Why? Because we are not all the same. We are shaped by our experiences and our experiences are influenced by the groups we identify with: Black, White, Asian, female, gay, straight, bisexual, boomer, millennial, veteran, etc. So for me to presume that everyone should be treated the same (usually with myself as the reference point) is like presuming that we all have the same favorite foods. We don’t.
So what leads us to this place called respect? We can’t get there unless we are willing to make time to get to know each other at a deeper level than we typically do and understand the differences that make our experiences different from one another. If I had to give a definition of respect, it is an active process of curiously engaging with people when I see differences. I seek to understand but I don’t judge them as good or bad or better or worse…they’re just differences. And if I’m really committed to this, I will practice this with people from all backgrounds, even if the differences are great.
Why make this investment in one another? The human brain is always doing a cost-benefit analysis of how we invest our energy, so if I’m going to spend money or energy on something, I better get something in return. While it certainly is a sign of respect, the other payback from increased awareness is efficiency. We become exponentially more effective at working together by learning what’s important to each other and familiarizing ourselves with our respective styles.
The human brain does its best work when it has predictability (which is one of the challenges of a large organization going through a change). When there’s a lot of unpredictability and uncertainty, this feels like pain to the brain and it slows us down terribly (sometimes to the point of avoidance). So when I have to work with a person who I don’t really understand, it is hard work for both of us. But, if I’m willing to make that investment in you and you make it in me, we become much more predictable around one another and we get our work done with much less effort. No that’s a “golden rule” that I can live with!