By: Paul Moorman, ND Paper
Leadership begins and ends with respecting people. That goes beyond saying it and even truly feeling it. Respecting people changes you. It changes how you approach every interaction, how you train yourself to speak and to listen, and demonstrates how you value people’s time. Through the following experiences, I hope you see yourself in them, for better or worse, and take a moment to reflect on how you show your respect to others.
Respect changes time. We all seem to have too little time, yet we fritter it away with overly long meetings, making a habit of including way too many people on emails and replying to everyone when only the sender needs your response. Years ago, our IT leadership team assigned one person in our meetings to stop multiple simultaneous conversations, maintaining a “parking lot” of thoughts and ideas for post-meeting follow-ups and keeping us on our agenda. This was our way of showing each other that we respected each other’s time and the value they brought to the table. When I began writing my daily blog years ago, my first goal was to have people stop reading posts that didn’t interest them, as quickly as possible. I wanted to be respectful of their time and would try to make the subject line so clear they could delete it without going further. I would repeat that with the first line of the blog, then the second, etc. If you’ve read this far, I hope the first paragraph was crystal clear and I failed you if you’ve read this far and decided now that it’s not for you. Imagine if every email you received, and sent, were written this way.
Respect changes questions. How you ask questions, either to an individual or an audience, can either engage them or turn them off. Respectful question are ones that they can answer, and this is different from them knowing the answer, or even the correct answer. Consider these two slightly different versions. “How was Gorilla Glass invented?” and “Do you know how Gorilla Glass was invented?” When I asked the second version to groups of sixth graders recently at Kettering Middle School, they all immediately answered “No!”, because they knew that answer. I explained that the glass was accidentally overheated, then asked “Guess what happened when they accidently dropped it on the floor?”. Everyone shouted “It broke!”. “No”, I replied, “it bounced!”, followed by giggles of surprise. Everyone had an answer, and even though they all shouted out the wrong answer, no one cared. Phrasing questions so they can be answered is the respectful approach, allowing them to get engaged instead of making them feel, at best, awkward with the silence, and worse, withdrawing from further conversation.
Respect changes listening. Ever been in a meeting where two people disagree on a course of action? Do you listen intently, trying your best to figure out which path you’ll put your vote behind? Sure, we all have, but have you ever started with the respectful view that these smart people are both are right, at least from the facts as they understand them? I was invited to a meeting many years ago, puzzled on why I was there, doubtful that I would have anything to contribute on an unfamiliar subject. A few minutes into the meeting the debate began and having nothing to say decided to just sit back and try to figure out how these two people were viewing their individual underlying assumptions, those that made them both right. It took thirty minutes of intense listening before I thought I just might understand those assumptions, and relieved to find myself back into my familiar technical world. I gave it another ten minutes, continued listening to validate their two slightly different views. I then presented those views and asked them if those were in fact correct, which they agreed they were. When I explained which view was true, the meeting was over and the path forward was clear. And everyone came away feeling good about the outcome.
Time, questioning and listening are only a few of the areas where we can show our respect to our colleagues, families and friends. Take a moment to reflect on what you do well, and perhaps an area where you feel you can improve. The respect you demonstrate will help set the culture of your organization in a powerful way, for better or worse.
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