A little respect goes a long way.

In fact, when it comes to addressing conflict or tension, our research team recently found that treating people with respect on a daily basis is one of the most helpful things a leader can do.

“At work and in our communities, we are often faced with uncertainty or tension around our differences,” says CCL’s Kelly Hannum, co-author of our research on Leading Across Differences.

That’s why a key challenge for leaders is to help establish and nurture respectful relationships among many different groups.

3 Indicators of Respect

As part of this research, a survey of 3,041 individuals across 10 countries revealed that being respectful is not just helpful when addressing conflicts between groups; it’s also viewed as a critical leadership responsibility.

“Treating people with respect seems obvious, but it may not be as intuitive as you think,” Hannum explains. She specifies 3 key factors from the research that indicate what respect really means to people:

  1. Respect is about listening. People feel respected when they have been heard and understood. Being genuinely interested in and open to others strengthens relationships and builds trust. You don’t need to agree with or like the other person’s viewpoint. Taking the time to listen to someone’s experience, ideas, and perspectives is respectful, even if you choose another path.
  2. Respect isn’t the absence of disrespect. Eliminating active disrespect — such as rude, insulting, or devaluing words or behaviors — doesn’t create respect. Respect is an action: We show respect; we act respectfully; we speak with respect. “Leaders need to know that the absence of disrespect doesn’t have the same positive impact in resolving disagreement, conflict, or tension as does the presence of respect,” says Hannum.
  3. Respect is shown in many ways. The perception of respect is influenced by culture and family, peers, and social relationships. Status, power, and role all create the context in which respect is interpreted. Leaders need to take the time to understand how respect is given and received in cultures and groups other than the ones they think of as “normal.”

“You may not need to make huge changes in your behavior to be more effective,” Hannum says. “Just understanding and acknowledging as valid what others expect from you will make a difference.”

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How to Cultivate Respect in Your Organization

You can help cultivate a climate of respect in the following ways:

  • Exhibit an interest in and appreciation of others’ perspectives, knowledge, skills, and abilities.
  • Express recognition and gratitude for the efforts and contributions of others.
  • Openly communicate information about policies and procedures so everyone has access to and is operating with similar information.
  • Clarify decision-making processes, and when appropriate, seek input into those processes.
  • Take concerns seriously.
  • If someone or a group feels “wronged,” seek to understand that perspective and offer a genuine apology if warranted.

At its core, respect is a continuous process of paying attention to people. We get into habits and make assumptions that, if unchecked, can lead to misunderstandings and ineffective behaviors.

We can partner with you to create customized leadership development solutions that build a strong culture of respect at your organization. Learn more about our equity, diversity & inclusion practice.

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