The Power of Respect
A little respect goes a long way.
In fact, when it comes to addressing conflict or tension, our researchers have found that treating people with respect on a daily basis is one of the most helpful things an individual leader can do. And organizations must intentionally build a culture of respect if they want to attract, retain, and leverage the contributions of all their talent.
“Yet at work and in our communities, we are often faced with uncertainty or tension around our differences,” says researcher Kelly Hannum, co-author of our casebook on Leading Across Differences.
That’s why a key challenge for leaders is to help establish and nurture respectful relationships among many different groups. Collaborating across boundaries is a key leadership skill.
3 Indicators of Respect
Our research 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 notes 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 actively listen to understand 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.” Cultural intelligence is especially critical when leading a multicultural team.
“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.”
How to Cultivate a Culture of Respect in Your Organization
You can help cultivate a climate of respect at your organization in the following ways:
- Exhibit an interest in and appreciation of others’ perspectives, knowledge, skills, and abilities.
- Express recognition and show 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, erring on the side of inclusiveness.
- Take concerns seriously; if someone or a group feels “wronged,” show sincere empathy and seek to understand that perspective. 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.
Ready to Take the Next Step?
Partner with us to build a strong culture of respect at your organization. We can work with you to create a customized learning journey for your leaders using our research-backed modules. Available leadership topics include Beyond Bias™, Boundary Spanning Leadership, Collaboration & Teamwork, Conflict Management, Emotional Intelligence, Listening to Understand, Psychological Safety & Trust, and more.