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The Four Elements of Respect.

Exploring what respect in the workplace means.

The mediation between Anne and Margaret had been difficult to start with but was now going well. We’d spent time considering the issues that had led Anne to raise a grievance against her manager, Margaret. Anne had complained about what she saw as Margaret’s bullying, but the grievance had not been upheld. They were now trying to agree how they would work together going forward. Talking things through they now had a better understanding of the other’s intentions and also that they had quite different workstyles. It was now time for me to ask what they needed from each other. Anne said she needed Margaret to show her more respect.

Respect – it’s a word I hear time and time again in mediations. It’s one of the principal ‘needs’ that people have for their working relationships. The problem is, what does ‘respect’ actually mean? If someone says ‘I want X to show me more respect’ my response is to ask them what that means to them. What respect looks like for one person can be very different for someone else. I’ll help them to translate it into specific tangible behaviours that can be meaningful for the other person. We might end up with ‘I want X to consider my opinions even if they are different to their own’ for example.

As respect is such a common theme, and a struggle for mediation participants to explain, I’ve explored how the issue can be broken down for them. I’ve developed four broad headings which can then be further split down into specific behaviours by the participant.

The four elements of respect that I’ve come up with are in the diagram below. They answer the question:

‘You show me RESPECT when you…’

Understanding / Support

  • In this interpretation of respect, what the person is looking for is for the other to demonstrate that they are thinking about them, showing genuine interest, acknowledging where they are coming from and giving support.

Civility / Professionalism

  • This is about how we behave towards each other. For a manager this might mean that their team member does the basics like being punctual for meetings, not spreading gossip etc. For the team member this area could be the manager treating them with kindness and maintaining good communication for instance.

Fairness / Integrity

  • This aspect of respect is about core values of being fair and acting with integrity. This might encompass ensuring treatment is consistent between colleagues, avoiding hasty judgement and ‘walking the talk’ when it comes to stated values.

Trust / Recognition

  • In this area respect relates to giving space to achieve and giving acknowledgement for contribution made. It can include allowing employees to make mistakes they can learn from. It could also be an employee acknowledging that the manager has the right to manage.

I find it helpful to talk to mediation participants about these four areas as it can enable them to be more specific about what they mean when they say ‘respect’. The more clearly they can articulate it to the other person, the better their chances of getting what they need. It’s not a scientific analysis, it’s simply a differentiation of various types of ‘respect’ which can be useful in the context of a relationship conflict at work.

Anne was a bit stumped when I asked her to explain what she meant by respect. So we broke it down using the four elements and she was able to come up with specific behaviours. For Anne it was about giving her the independence and autonomy to prove herself and acknowledging the contribution she made, as well as Margaret taking the time to listen to her. These were things which Margaret could understand and relate to – and even more importantly, agree to!


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