Enjoy this excerpt from one of our published books.
Reframe Your Outlook:
How to Show respect, even when it's hard
Overview: Your outlook drives your actions. And if your goal is to be effective in all of your encounters, your mission should be to treat people right.
In the midst of a disagreement, no one will budge from his or her viewpoint until there’s movement toward common ground.
Until then, we’re all stuck.
Unfortunately, we typically turn to our values to create our common ground—but that’s oftentimes the source of our disagreement (if you’ve ever argued with someone else over politics you know what I mean). Either we don’t know the other person’s values or we consider them unreasonable.
Values don’t solve our problems; it’s unrealistic to think you can convert someone to your belief system or your set of values. They have their own, and they’re entitled to them.
So how, then, do we move forward?
The promise of the book is a single, comprehensive framework for managing conflict. We have to identify a quality that transcends values to move us toward common ground with someone else — even if that other person, compared to us, seems unreasonable, strange or wrong.
In our organization’s 30+ years of teaching conflict management, only one concept has been robust enough to bridge these differences. Only one concept connects neighbors and friends, strangers and enemies, and those of different cultures, religions and ages.
In this chapter I’ll break down Vistelar’s five approaches to Treating People with Dignity by Showing Them Respect.
I’ll explain how these principles are used in professional applications to bring peace to volatile situations. And then I’ll tell you where it’s been most effective for me: in establishing a loving level of guidance with my children.
Defining dignity and respect
Because this chapter is all about leveraging what we all hold in common—the desire to be treated with dignity and shown respect— it’s useful to qualify what is meant by these terms.
Treating people with dignity and showing them respect has been, until now, a process that has been rather loosely defined.
We all know we want it, but we fall short on how to pinpoint or deliver it.
Let’s start by looking at dignity. What is it exactly? If an image of a butler with a white towel over his arm popped into your mind, you’re not the only one who might rely on caricature.
We think about dignity in a situational context. We notice it in act — “that was undignified” — or in an appearance — “he looks quite dignified.” We don’t recognize it as a constant quality that needs affirmation.
Understanding the idea of respect is just as hazy. It’s hard to define respect as an action verb. In fact, it’s probably easier for you to recollect how angry you felt by being disrespected than it is to recall a time when you were shown respect.
Showing respect is more than just doing an act of respect. Offering a handshake is respectful in American culture, but just the gesture is not enough. It must be accompanied by an attitude that projects your desire to treat the other person right.
Unfortunately, when it comes to showing respect, we step lightly because we are afraid of how our actions might be misinterpreted: holding the door open for me might be an act of respect on your part, but I might interpret it and perceive it as a sign of sexism.
Because attempts to convey respect can be misinterpreted, we need a more robust interpretation of how we should treat people, one that is not wishy-washy or dependent on understanding someone’s personal preferences. The interpretation that we’ve found successful is this:
All human beings, simply by virtue of being human, are deserving of a baseline of dignity. When others violate that, whether through disregard, objectification, or by demeaning us, we are offended because a core part of who we are has been stripped away. So everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and the way to do this is by showing respect. Now this doesn’t mean that you need to respect everyone. That would be impossible, since respect is based on your personal values and must be earned. However, if you want to be good at managing conflict, you must show other people respect.
So, how do you do this? How do you show people respect?
LESSON 7 : The Five Approaches to Treating People with Dignity by Showing Them Respect
These five approaches outline the action steps that need to be taken in order to show people respect in the times when they need it most:
- See the world through their eyes
- Listen with all your senses
- Ask and explain why
- Offer options, let them choose
- Give opportunity to reconsider
These approaches put our principles into action: acknowledging the dignity of another person and showing them respect defines our outlook.
What you need is a willingness to acknowledge the dignity of others, the capacity to show them with respect and the skills to manage the situation.
Our values set us apart (and that’s OK)
We all know—and value—the things that set us apart. So it’s only natural to expect some defensiveness and opposition when our choices fall into opposition.
Our choices reflect our values. Let’s take food as an example.
If I’m a vegan and you love meat, us both sitting down and enjoying Thanksgiving dinner is going to require some special accommodations. Now, food is an easy example of the value embedded in what seem like straightforward decisions that actually turn out to be triggers for conflict. Move up the value chain and the potential for disagreement is even more ponderous: how you parent, whom you love, or what you worship.
You’ve got your own set of values, and so do I.
That’s why treating people based upon dignity and respect, not upon whether you agree with their personal choices, is the best way to conduct interactions that leave everyone’s dignity intact.
Moreover, this tactic leads to positive results.
Applying dignity and respect to parenting
One of the hardest parts of parenting teenagers is the process of gracefully detaching and granting them independence.
Some of us are better than others. I myself am a work in progress. As a mother accustomed to some measure of control, this process really stinks.
I’m loosening up the reins on my 16- and 14-year-old sons and my 11-year-old daughter, so they have the freedom to manage their choices— and sometimes, I need to let them make mistakes.
I used to be able to talk them out of impulse purchases, outrageous junk food and awful hairstyles, but not so much anymore.
Case in point: my older son has grown out his facial hair to the point that his friends started calling him “Wolverine.” Yuck.
It is hard to sit on the sidelines and watch the parade of bad choices. It is also hard to walk the tightrope between granting them a measure of autonomy, while at the same time setting and enforcing strict rules.
Hair? Have it your way. Curfew? Mine.
Every day holds encounters that test my mettle: how do I respect their independence and guide them appropriately? Those are some pretty high stakes as we work our way through the stages of building maturity.
Here’s an in-depth breakdown of how Vistelar’s five approaches to showing respect have helped me through.
1. See the world through their eyes
Think of listening as an action sport. You’re not just hearing; you’re engaging all of your senses to ascertain the meaning.
2. Listen with all your senses
Think of listening as an action sport. You’re not just hearing; you’re engaging all of your senses to ascertain the meaning.
You’re listening, watching, observing and putting two-and-two together.
Ask any parent whose kid has broken curfew. That mother or father is not just listening to the words. They’re using every single one of their senses (including gut intuition) to understand the situation and context.
They’re listening for inconsistencies and they’re trying to spot warning signs of trouble. They’re also trying to get to the bottom of what really happened.
This process is called Beyond Active Listening, and we will cover it thoroughly in Chapter 6. In a nutshell this process details the action steps for actively engaging in fact-finding and understanding.
You can’t just hear them; you’ve got to understand what they’re saying. You ask questions, paraphrase, and summarize in order to understand how they see the situation, and then you use that information to work together in finding a solution. That’s how you will inspire them to make better choices.
3. Ask and explain why
Consider the power of asking someone to do something instead of telling or directing them to do so. Achieving buy-in is a powerful persuasive technique.
Having a sense of ownership of the problem or issue gives people a sense of control over a seemingly impossible situation.
I know how tempting it is to rush in and play the Mom Card: it’s my right to tell you what to do. But angry righteousness will put up an instant barrier between me and my 16-year-old.
Treating him with dignity by showing him respect means that my goal is more than simple compliance. The conversation is partly about being in by 11 p.m., but really, it’s mostly about building a foundation of trust.
“Sean, what are some ways for not breaking curfew again?”
Explaining why they’re being asked to do something gives the other person insight into the bigger picture.
If you think back to your own experiences, understanding the why is powerfully motivating. You understand how your actions play into the bigger picture.
You don’t have to like the fact that, say, you have to leave a party when it’s still in full swing, but knowing the why behind the act makes the need easier to understand.
So it’s definitely important to offer some perspective to the people who matter most. In the case of the curfew there are multiple reasons they’re being asked to get with the program:
- It’s the law.
- It’s our family agreement. And most importantly:
- I want to trust you.
4. Offer options, let them choose
For those of us in positions of authority or power, we know exactly where things can end up.
We can yank privileges, take away car keys and keep ‘em grounded until next year. But instead of behaving like the wicked stepmother not letting Cinderella go to the ball, we want others to have some choice in how they want the situation to end.
Options are empowering, while threats are demeaning.
Here’s some advice for positioning options: you want to make your positive options as appealing as you can, and your negative ones vividly distasteful. You know what makes them tick (thanks to Maxim #1), and so you can use that to help persuade them gently.
Again, if the focus is on building trust, which statement is going to be more effective?
“Break curfew again and you’re grounded.”
“I know you want to keep going to parties. Can you keep better track of the time?”
Why not let the choice be theirs?
5. Give opportunity to reconsider
The second chance is an empowering tool. Granting someone a do-over lets them make good and maintains your authority.
This is an indispensable modus operandi for parenting teenagers and others who need support as they build their decision-making skills. It also gives them a chance to slow down and think things through —
both are greatly needed in the midst of conflict.
For this example, here’s how I would embed the second chance into the summarizing piece of the listening sequence we described in Maxim 1:
“Sean, it sounds like you didn’t notice until it was too late that your phone battery died and you lost track of the time.
“You said that you understand why you need to be in by 11.
“Because you appreciate the privilege of going out with your friends you said you will wear a watch and check the time more closely.
“I’ll let you give that a try next Friday.”
A second chance doesn’t mean that there are no consequences. If my son had missed curfew before, he might have a shorter curfew this time. If he persistently violated curfew, I wouldn’t hesitate to take away his late-night privileges. But before I become the disciplinarian, I want to make sure that I’ve given him an opportunity to regain my trust.
The approaches to showing respect apply to all situations
Once you start using these five approaches to direct your interactions, you will start to key in and hear when it’s being used all around you.
I’m sure you know people who seem plugged in and responsive to the needs of others. There’s so much to be learned from them. In fact, I’m always learning and marveling at how people use this in every facet of life.
A few days ago I was in the office of my 14-year-old son’s middle school, watching one of the office ladies, Ms. E.—a true master—in action. Ms. E. was dismissing a boy who was being sent home because of an angry outburst.
This had the potential to get ugly. The boy’s dad walked in, and he looked angry too.
I watched Ms. E. take stock of the situation. She didn’t get flustered, like many of us might have done. Instead, she stood a little straighter and gave them a warm smile—the very first indications that she would be treating them dignity by showing them with respect.
“Sam, you’re a good boy,” she said in a matter-of-fact tone. “We want you to get the most out of middle school, we want you to learn and make new friends. Can you try not to let your anger get the best of you?” (Recall approach 3 about explaining why, and asking rather than telling. These are powerful messages promoting buy-in.)
Before dismissing them both, Ms. E. added, “We’re looking forward to having you back to school again tomorrow.”
That was it. The boy and his father were able to leave the school with their dignity intact.
Ms. E. had gotten her message across: You belong here. You made a mistake, but we want you back.
As a witness to the situation I could think of countless tipping points when this conversation could have gone wrong, for the boy, the father and Ms. E. But she delivered exactly the message the boy and his dad needed to hear. The boy wasn’t being blamed; he was being challenged to get better. And he was granted a second chance.
Showing people respect is a beautiful, powerful thing.
Some final thoughts
Although we’ve been talking about the five approaches to showing respect mostly within an interpersonal context, they were actually developed for professionals to manage conflict with people they didn’t have a pre-existing relationship with to fall back on.
It was developed as a way of helping first responders and other emergency providers initiate contact and conduct themselves effectively, regardless of background of the people they served. This structure provided a template for agencies to implement a way to treat people right, no matter whom.
This outlook can be a game-changer, personally and professionally. Let’s take a look at the corporate world. So much professional training focuses on diversity, the wedges that set us apart (culture, gender, religion and race, to name a few). We value our distinctiveness, in the choices we make in life.
But in dignity and respect we stand united.
When it comes to what really matters, we’re all playing on the same team. Once you make that realization, the whole game — your whole world — will change right before your eyes.