As John Kotter notes "You have a better chance of winning over the other party if you truly hear them out and consider their needs as well as your own. The success of this principle is rooted in respect." (Harvard Business Review Blog, January 5, 2011)
In one of the most extensively studied models of transformational leadership, "individual consideration"-- when employees feel leaders are truly concerned about them, that their well being is important, that they are involved in two way exchanges of ideas--is a factor that, alone, leads to improved outcomes and employee satisfaction. (Bass et al, Transformational Leadership: Second Edition, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 2006)
Respect cannot be considered a one-time action. In organizational life, the decks are stacked against sustaining an environment of respect no matter the level of skill and good intentions of leaders. At times, in everyone, the constant stress and complexity of business environments provoke innately human and automatic habits of mind that lead to rejecting what is uncomfortable or unfamiliar, and becoming fixated on one's own ideas as certainties. (William Isaacs Dialogue, 1999)
When these habits start to take over, people will tend to fall into debates over who is right as opposed to mutual exploration of ideas. Then, an environment of respect starts to deteriorate.
An ongoing practice of respect is required to counteract these tendencies. Some of the elements that are part of such a practice:
(a) Suspend certainty and become curious about what others think, feel, and believe and why.
(b) Shift from a communication pattern of debate (right vs.wrong) to one of mutual exploration
of ideas even if in disagreement.
(c) Constantly use active listening to assure others feel understood even if what they are saying
runs counter to one's own beliefs--use paraphrasing and "teach back" to check understanding.
(d) Make a staunch commitment to seeing others as worthy of being engaged in partnership.
(e) Offer absolute acceptance of legitimacy of concerns even if in disagreement--e.g. ""I see why
this matters to you." or "I can see where you are coming from." or "I can see how you came to
(f) Develop an ever deepening understanding of what language and action is experienced by
others as respectful vs. disrespectful.
(g) Stand firm on and communicate one's own perspectives but in a way that allows different
beliefs and does not provoke defensiveness or withdrawal--e.g. "This is the way I see it." as
as opposed to "This is the way it is."
A mind set that helps to sustain respect is to always treat people as teachers--"what is it that they have to teach you that you did not know?" (Isaacs, 1999)