Saturday, February 7, 2009


For those of you that have attended the workshops (nearly 300 now, thanks very much) you have heard me talk about the four kinds of respect we need to show in a collaboration and why. The “why” is easy – if we don’t show respect for our counterpart, the discussion will soon become about our disrespect and not the content. We will immediately shift away from solving the primary issue, and begin work on backpedalling away from some remark that distracts us from what we really want – to understand their side of the story as well as they do. So respect for the counterpart is one of the four kinds of respect, but how do we show it? And what if we DON’T respect this person to whom we are talking?

Respect for our counterpart can be thought of as a basic respect for new information. We recognize that they have views and opinions on a subject that is of interest to us. Their views may be well thought out or incoherent; they may agree with ours or be in opposition; they may be based on core beliefs that are similar to ours or are very different. The sharing of those ideas (if they are different from ours) will add to our knowledge if we hear them. If someone can add a new viewpoint, it is worthy of respect. Many (most) of the people with whom I have the pleasure to communicate are intelligent people, well-established and knowledgeable. If we differ on a subject, I am usually the one getting an education. I have a great deal of respect for these teachers and I find that if I fail to learn something from someone, it is usually my own fault by not engaging enough, or not being sufficiently curious. I kick myself when I find myself asking “I should have asked them THIS” as I walk away! Being curious and supportive, helping to find the real reasoning behind the perspective, and NOT judging but being grateful for the opportunity for the exchange are ways that you can communicate your respect. You treat them as if their ideas COULD be exactly correct, because you can’t determine otherwise until you fully understand them.

Respect for content is the second kind of respect that you bring to collaboration. I remind myself (and my counterpart) that the energy we are spending on the topic is because the result MATTERS and the way to get a good result is to sort through as many ideas as we can generate. Respect that your current understanding of the content is ALWAYS just a starting place and that your mind could be changed at any moment IF you are successful in finding a piece of mind changing information. If the topic is not important, then we needn’t talk about it at all unless it will affect our relationship going forward. If that is the case, the topic should probably be the relationship!

Respect for the process is the third kind of respect. The process of conducting a critical discussion properly is an interpersonal discipline that has been honed and refined over centuries. It helps us to do things that are VERY difficult using the tools that most of us have – it helps reach the best possible decisions based on limited information and in the face of uncertainty. As we improve in using the process, we find that it is usually easy to get a great deal of information from knowledgeable sources. What an improvement over bullying and tricking each other into accepting partially formed ideas.

I leave Respect for yourself for the fourth kind. One should never enter a critical discussion depending on the respect of their counterpart. You cannot control that they will show it EVEN if you have earned it. But you can have respect for yourself by always being non-judgmental of your counterpart, being non-manipulative, remaining authentic and empathetic. You respect that you are intelligent and have skills in communication that others desperately need. You share them. You don’t allow yourself to bully or be bullied, manipulate or be manipulated, judge or be judged. When your counterpart violates these rules, you address it with compassion understanding that they don’t know any other way, or they would use it. Further if the counterpart shows disrespect for you by committing any of the errors that could drive you to defensiveness, you should give them the benefit of the doubt by assuming that they meant no harm and telling them that the behavior is unacceptable, describing how it marginalizes you, and explaining that their disrespect is unnecessary and distracts from the purpose of the conversation.

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Rod Buckham said...

These informative postings by Gregg are very helpful and interesting. They have would seem to have utmost value to anyone involved in working within the "white space" of human relationships, delineated by the rewards of productivity on one extreme, and the risks of frustrating project failure on the other. As more analytical and procedural jobs are shipped overseas, these skills of effective communication in dynamic high stakes working environment become so much more important. Way to Go Gregg. Keep posting and I'll keep reading.

Rod Buckham

Gregg Oliver said...

Thanks for your kind words. I am always encouraged by the emails and comments like yours and hope to continue to be of service to this community for a long time.

YOur Friend,