Taking Action: The Universal Language of Respect


By Randy Kennett

The investment for leaders and organizations in developing and nurturing a culture of respect, has never been worth more to the workforce and performance success, than today.

A professor by the name of James Clawson suggests that respect for the individual is one of the cornerstones to the “moral foundation of leadership”. Respect is the means to the end, as respect provides strength for greater productivity through the purposeful missions of dignity, diversity, accommodation, inclusion, and engagement. Of course, the degree of productivity will be influenced by the united and comprehensive development of the foundation of respect, which involves two important characteristics:

1. Define the respectful workplace qualities, attitudes, and values. Respect has the ability to be a universal language, when we take the time to define respect together. Until we do this, respect may look differently to different people, and we will have the risk of being disrespectful, based on our different interpretations. And with respect, it cannot be a majority rules, as with true respect, everyone rules. Respect is no longer “treating people how you would like to be treated”, respect is “treating people how they would like to be treated”. We are different, and we may like to be treated differently. Once you take the time with a team and/or organization to define what respect will look like, feel like, communicate and act like, then you have started to build your foundation for progressing forward. This is where respect becomes more than just one word on a mission statement or job description, open to the interpretation of the individual. Give respect life, through collective meaning, as outlined and understood by the team and organization.

2. Approach respect as an action, versus a judgment, and determine the behaviours that will support the cultural competence of respect. There are many people that have a belief that respect must be earned, and with this belief, respect does become a judgment, where you are either open or closed to someone, depending on your level of respect for them. Typically, respect is the exact opposite, as respect can be about being open and non-judgmental. For people who are locked on to the belief of respect must be earned, we would encourage the following thoughts to be considered. Have you told the person how long it’s going to take to earn your respect? Have you told the person how to earn your respect? (i.e. Are people not living-up to your expectations, because you’re not even telling them what your expectations are?) Have you helped them earn your respect? (i.e. Assuming we are all fallible as human beings, have you helped them by forgiving?) Another belief around respect, perhaps on the opposite end of the spectrum from respect must be earned, is respect must be given, kept, and helped kept. Respect in action would be giving someone your respect, with the positive outlook that they will keep your respect, and if they are losing your respect, helping them keep it or get it back.

With respect as an action and the universal language defined, this sets us up for Dignity, supporting trust, understanding, value and recognition of each others’ worth. With dignity respected, this sets us up for Diversity, where we can be open to other’s differences, open with our own differences, which is all part of our identity and being real, authentic, and vulnerable. With diversity respected, this sets us up for Accommodation, where we have a willingness to help, adapt, and adjust, to foster a state of balance and harmony for the team. With accommodation respected, we have the glue between diversity and Inclusion, where we can now welcome, involve, and leverage those differences for goal achievement. With inclusion respected, this sets us up for Engagement, where people can contribute their talents, skills, and thoughts. And once we have engagement respected, this sets us up for Productivity.

When we learn what to be with respect, we will have a better idea of knowing what to do, and becoming who we are all capable of becoming with respect. Then the questions will be:

  • When will what we know, change what we do?
  • Are we willing to commit? To our own behaviour, to each other, and to our role in taking respect to the next level and greater potential for our team and organization?
  • What’s our choice?

Respect can be a game changer for organizations.

Randy Kennett is presenting Diversity/Inclusion/Engagement: Practices for the Workplace in Victoria on June 7. For this and other professional development opportunities, please refer to BC HRMA’s online calendar.

Randy Kennett is a Senior Advisor with Edge Learning, Director with Hone Consulting, and an Instructor with post-secondary institutions. Randy provides advising and facilitation services for a variety clients (including non-profit, government, and businesses), continuing education programs, and the BC HRMA professional development program.

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