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  • Frans van de Ven

RESPECT - harnassing the power of diversity



Respect is related to the importance of values and norms. If someone recognises in your behaviour values and norms that are also important to them, you will earn their respect. In that way, you become a valuable person for them. This is another vital element in the creation of Positive Connections with others, through which your attitude, words and actions influence these others.

Values and norms are first and foremost something personal. We acquire them as a result of our upbringing, education and training. However, our environment, such as the land where we live or the organisation where we work, also helps to determine our values and norms. If it is the norm (as is the case in some countries) that colleagues shake hands when they come into the office each morning, it will be seen as disrespectful if you do not do the same. Of course, this does not mean that you never can or never should go against the values and norms prevailing in an organisation. If everyone always arrives late for the start of meetings and you make an effort to try and get everyone to start on time, this will gain you respect by others who also regard ‘starting on time’ as an important norm.

How can you work to improve your respect in the eyes of others? Research suggests that this is largely a matter of following the accepted values and norms, combined with the extent to which others are able to appreciate your personal values and norms. That being said, I still believe that it is possible to work at gaining respect. In the following paragraphs I will detail some of the elements that in my opinion lead to greater respect. But the most important element of all is this: doing what you are good at and doing it well. Strong performance, carried out in an ex- emplary manner, almost always wins respect.


As far as respect in a working relationship is concerned, for me the most important components are as follows:


Respect for yourself


Perhaps it sounds strange, but others will not respect you if you do not respect yourself. Respecting yourself means that you stand up for your own convictions and opinions. It means that you dare to set your own limits and have the courage to say ‘no’, when necessary. It means making use of your talents and doing the things that you like to do and are good at doing. However, it does not mean that you can- not adjust your style or approach depending on the circumstances, although you should always do this in your own personal manner. Respecting yourself is being true to yourself.


Respect for identity and diversity


Our diversity as human beings means that no two people have precisely the same values and norms. This gives us two options. We can either concentrate on the things that divide us and become irritated by the fact that some people act according to values and norms that are not ours. Or else we can concentrate on the things that we share and regard the differences as elements that actually enrich the organisation for which we all work. With this second (and clearly better) option, you accept people as they are and attempt to see the added value that their diversity creates. People feel respected if they are allowed to be their true selves and are not expected to fit into pigeon-holes determined by others. It is generally the case in the world of organisations (and beyond) that diverse teams are stronger teams, provided that the team members are prepared to build constructively on each other’s diversity. This demands effort and dedication.


Courtesy and humility


In essence, courtesy means showing respect for others through the practical application of good manners and etiquette. Courtesy in all its forms helps you to gain respect. Moreover, as the old proverb puts it: ‘Politeness costs you nothing’. Within organisations, you can see courtesy at work in the simplest of things: not interrupting people when they are speaking; not shouting at people; reacting calmly and collectedly in heated situations; not gossiping about people. As you climb higher up the hierarchical ladder, courtesy also increasingly becomes a form of humility: the ‘big boss’ who pours the coffee when visited by a less senior employee; the head of department who asks the office cleaner how things are going; etc. Courtesy and humility are matters of small details. A title alone will seldom win you genuine respect; on the contrary, the higher you rise in the organisation, the more people will expect of you. In this respect, courtesy is a win from which everyone benefits.


Listening to others and showing interest in their intentions


Even if you are not completely in agreement with what someone is saying or doing, you can still listen to him and attempt to discover his intentions. This is also a form of respect. If you take as your starting point the assumption that everyone acts with good intentions, it is often enough simply to ask the person in question to explain his intentions and how he plans to implement them through his words and actions. As soon as you understand what his intentions are, you can, where necessary, attempt to search together to find a better way to put those intentions into practice. Listening and showing interest are important keys to respect.

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