Original September, 2017, Revised November 2019
Respect is easy to give (it doesn’t cost anything) yet it can break down negative stereotypes and be very disarming.
You don't need to agree with everyone, or accept their bad behavior as okay. But if you hear them out and respond calmly without attacking them, your chance for effective problem solving goes way up.
HOW: Regardless of whether you respect someone AND regardless of what they have done, treating them with respect anyway is usually far more beneficial than the opposite. That DOESN'T MEAN agreeing with them, or accepting their bad behavior as okay. But it DOES MEAN actively listening to them and responding calmly (no yelling) with I-messages that explain how you feel without calling them names or blaming them.
WHY: Think about how YOU feel when someone treats you disrespectfully. Not good, probably. Other people are the same way! Disrespect is contagious--so if you give it, you are likely to get it right back. And when you treat others disrespectfully--yelling at them, calling them names, threatening them--you are very unlikely to persuade anyone to listen to you, consider your views, or do what you want them to do. They will just ignore you--or worse!
On the other hand treating people with respect doesn't cost you anything. But it can break down the negative images that others might have of you, and be very disarming. It makes it much more likely the other side will then actually listen to you, consider your views, and just possibly, do what you want them to do.
Most importantly, respect stops the disrespect-hostility-hatred loop that so often leads to intractability and even violence.
For more information about this, you might read:
- The Beyond Intractability (BI) essay on Respect.
- The BI essay on the opposite of respect...Humiliation
- The BI essay on Empathic Listening (similar to active listening)
- The BI essay on I-Messages
- The BI essay and Conflict Fundamentals Post on Stereotypes
- The BI essay on De-escalating Gestures
- The BI essay on De-escalation
- The Conflict Frontiers Seminar Post on "The Blame Game"
- Two discussions about developing respect for the other side of the abortion dispute: Robert Stains from Essential Partners (formerly the Public Conversations Project) and Peter Coleman talking about Essential Partner's work.
Also, for an infographic that very quickly summarizes the key idea here, see Infographic: Respect: "A Silver Bullet?
Question for You:
Have you done this in a particularly tricky or difficult conflict situation--with someone you really did not respect deep down inside? Did it help? What did you learn from the experience? Alternatively, were you treated with respect when you maybe didn't deserve it (when you messed up)? Did that help the situation? Send us an email with your answer, and we'll share it here!