Toward a more practical definition of “Respect”

There’s no getting around it.  We know that Respect is a certified big deal, a no foolin’ item on the list of soft stuff that’s important to attend to. But we like dealing with things that are more rock-hard and tangible.  Here’s the dictionary definition of Respect that captures that big-deal-ness of our dilemma:

  • Esteem for, or a sense of the worth or excellence of a person

Yep.  That sounds about right.  But it’s also about as intangible and woo-woo as it gets.   Let me offer a more practical definition of Respect that I think might help:  

  • Giving due consideration to the other

Let’s slice things a little more finely:

  • Definition of “the other”: Anybody who isn’t you.
  • The words “the other” sound a little odd and discordant in this context, don’t they?  Wouldn’t it be less awkward to say “Giving due consideration to others” or “to other people”?  Yes it would, and that’s the problem.  Those phrasings conjure up images of groups of people.  The image we need to conjure up is that of an individual person, i.e., “the other".  
  • “Consideration” means just that.  While you were saying or doing whatever it is that you said or did, did you stop to think about—did you consider—the effect it would have on the other?  If so, great.  If not, not so great.  But the power of this definition is that it puts the measurement right where it belongs: in your head and in your heart and soul.  You may be able to BS your boss, but it’s difficult to BS yourself.  (Although some people do manage to pull this off, which, although not particularly admirable, can be quite impressive to behold.)
  • The word “due” is an important one.  It’s what recognizes the fact that we live in an imperfect world, one that calls for judgments and trade-offs.  It also shifts the focus from concepts like “esteem” and “self-worth” to “effects on the business.”

We all would prefer to be able to consult our check lists and our action plans.  We want prescriptions, not theory:  “Tell me what I need to do.”  Unfortunately, the asking of a question does not constitute proof of an answer.  Achieving higher levels of engagement isn’t so much about what leaders need to do as it is about how leaders need to be.  And how they need to be is respectful of the other person. 

It’s just that hard.  But it’s just that simple.