For Challenging Conversations, Respect Melts Resistance

The need for respect is intertwined with many basic human needs, but doesn’t receive…well, the respect that it deserves when it comes to workplace performance. It turns out, just about everything works a bit better when we all respect the respect deficit and deliberately do something to address it.

Respect and Challenging Workplace Conversations

Peel the layers back on just about every challenging conversation at work, and you’ll find the respect deficit lurking there somewhere.

Gatekeepers and the Respect Deficit

I worked recently with a sales manager struggling with a person he described as a cantankerous credit manager. The credit manager was in the words of the sales representative, “inflexible and an impediment to doing business.

Now, pause for a moment and think about the life of any credit manager. It’s their job to minimize credit risk and to say “no” when something smells off on a deal. Frankly, they say “no” a great deal, and that’s good. The best credit managers I’ve worked with are quick with a “no” but creative when it comes to working within parameters to get a deal done. Said no one ever, “I’m incredibly appreciative of our credit manager’s diligence and willingness to say no.”

For any person in a role where “No” is a reasonable and common answer, you can expect both appreciation and respect for their efforts to be in short supply. Armed with this insight, how powerful might it be if you actively (and authentically) fill the respect-deficit with your approach? Hint: it will be game-changing.

Overworked, Under-Respected and in Need of “Feeling Felt”

Another client, flustered over the resistance from a fellow manager to her proposed process change shared her opinion: “This manager is the president of the we’ve always done it this way, and it has worked fine club. I don’t understand why she doesn’t see the logic inherent in the new process.

I heard both frustration and disdain in her perspective on the situation and manager. Neither are helpful for gaining support and making progress. I suggested a different tactic—reach out to the manager with a sense of empathy and show some respect and see if the outcome is different.

It turned out, the manager had just endured a reduction in headcount with an increase in workload and was fearful of taking on anything new, especially a significant change that might showcase the team as ineffective. To top it off, the manager viewed her boss with fear as someone who punished mistakes and didn’t acknowledge good performance.

Armed with insight into the manager’s situation and a new-found and expressed respect for the conditions under which they generated great results, the two found a way forward that met everyone’s interests. A phased approach minimized risks and labor strain on the team. My client capped things off nicely by making sure all of management learned of how hard this group worked and how critical they were to the process change.

Feedback Conversations Implode or Explode When Respect is Missing

A supervisor was struggling with feedback conversations that seemed to ride off the rails and always end up in arguments or worse yet, escalations. When I observed him in a few of these settings, I felt like arguing back myself. He conducted his feedback sessions like a prosecuting attorney for the inquisition. Respect was absent, and compliance was demanded.

Once we worked on adjusting the supervisor’s attitude about the positive purpose of feedback, he was (somewhat surprisingly) able to embrace a new, respect-based approach to guiding feedback discussions. The negative air around these discussions disappeared, and the supervisor learned how powerful it is to lead with respect.

Addressing the Respect Deficit Melts Resistance

Dr. Mark Goulston in a book I regularly recommend, “Just Listen” describes the need for all of us to “feel felt” when engaging with others. Whether we admit it or not, most of us appreciate when others show that they value our insights, ideas, and contributions. We like to feel felt and understood, particularly when it comes to anything that involves change or perceived risk.

For Starters: 8 Things You Can Do to Show More Respect:

1. Choose at every encounter to show your respect for the individual or group in front of you. Be deliberate about it!

2. Pay fierce attention when someone else is talking. Anything less is disrespectful.

3. Instead of constantly restating your case, ask questions and show that you care about someone else’s ideas or concerns.

4. Genuinely show how much you appreciate someone’s efforts and circumstances. Yes, especially for the gatekeepers.

5. In case you missed #4, empathize more with someone’s circumstances. Make them feel felt. It won’t kill you.

6. Recognize that behind every objection or “no” is a set of hidden interests and then put the time and hard work in necessary to uncover those interests.

7. Give people input and even control into designing solutions for things you are asking them to do.

8. Make your respect for someone visible to everyone you can, including their bosses and team members.

The Bottom-Line for Now:

The absence of respect breeds toxicity among individuals and across the workplace. Instead of being blinded by your brilliance it pays to take the time to look, listen, learn, and value the person across the table from you. Address the respect deficit and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results.

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About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.

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