What’s Does Genuine Respect Look Like?

By Linda Fisher Thornton

We can disagree calmly in ways that help us solve problems together, or we can show our stripes by using aggressive behavior under the banner of “with all due respect.” Whichever approach we use, how we interpret respect impacts the people around us. 

There is no place for disrespectful behavior in a “good” society. Even if we agree on that point, respect can be understood from a variety of angles. You may already be thinking of a leader who operated in the red zone (in the graphic above), creating a toxic environment that caused emotional harm.

Real respect is not one dimensional.  

You may have also encountered people operating in the yellow zone who were carefully polite but did not go out of their way to help others or demonstrate care.  

Real respect is not selective. It’s not selfish.

How we choose to offer respect to others is an ethical issue. A narrow view – for example, “I will respect whoever I choose to respect and no one else” can lead to negative interpersonal behavior, which increases tension, conflict and stress. 

Leaders with a SELFish understanding of respect may look for opportunities to BENEFIT THEMSELVES by using respect selectively. 

Leaders with an OTHERish understanding of respect might look for opportunities to BE FAIR AND EQUAL in respecting others, not showing favoritism to certain groups, but showing respect for all. 

Respect at the highest level incorporates positive intent and impact. 

Leaders with a high level OTHERish understanding of respect (that incorporates care for others) will go beyond using polite behavior to look for opportunities to help and be in service to others. They will tend to stay in the green zone, where they don’t just “not offend people,” they have an intentional positive impact on others.

I think of the “respect” in the yellow zone as only the minimum standard for interpersonal behavior. Don’t great leaders give so much more?

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