Blog | Jan 13, 2012 | 3 Comments

[respectful communication: some guidelines]

Workplaces seem to be filled with conflict these days. How do you spell “relief’? R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Sometimes you just need to call a truce. 

Imagine you walk into a conference room for what should be a very contentious meeting. You sit down with feelings of dread, anxiety, or just plain irritation. But in front of your chair is a piece of paper entitled “Respectful Communication Guidelines,” and it reads like this:

R = take RESPONSIBILITY for what you say and feel without blaming others

E = use EMPATHETIC listening

S = be SENSITIVE to differences in communication styles

P = PONDER what you hear and feel before you speak

E = EXAMINE your own assumptions and perceptions


T = TRUST ambiguity because we are not here to debate who is right or wrong

After reading this, you notice it’s a form that requires your signature.

I agree to uphold these guidelines for the time we have together.

The first time I saw this form was at a workshop for Unitarian Universalist church leaders put on by the Kaleidoscope Institute, which is dedicated to fostering “competent leadership in a diverse, changing world.” The Institute was founded by Eric H. F. Law, an Episcopal priest who also happens to be gay and Chinese-American. He knows a thing or two about diversity, cultural sensitivity, and respect. (Check out his blog with that link.)

Eric first published these guidelines in his book entitled The Bush Was Blazing But Not Consumed. And when I first saw the guidelines, it was in a religious context. But I immediately thought, “Why can’t I apply these to my work life?”

Today, I walked into a meeting that should have been very contentious.

I prepared by telling myself that the anger I expected was justified–it really was–and that my goal was to be supportive. I also had to reconcile myself to the fact that I did not know the outcome ahead of time. I had to trust that if I remained empathetic and engaged in respectful dialogue, an answer would present itself.

My colleague was very angry at the start of the meeting. In fact, someone outside the room later remarked on it. But by the end, we were laughing and we had a plan. That’s a a real “win.” And then it hit me that respectful communication might actually be a way to get more work done.

It could take me the rest of my career to incorporate the RESPECT model into all of my communications. But I’m willing to try because I’m tired of a culture in which the goal is to be heard (but not necessarily to listen), to have all the answers (without leaving room for new ideas), to be right (and make others wrong), and to win (so that others lose).

What do you think? Would you sign the form?

 Image credit: ChicagoSage on flickr


Author: Claire Wagner

I'm a seasoned freelance writer/editor and an enthusiastic community manager. I'm passionate about developing and sharing good content.


Claire, I love that you’re bringing this to corporate culture. The way we interact in our “personal” lives should be the same as in our “professional” lives. I have a number of “goals” that I strive to live up to. I strive to stay in integrity, which means that I do what I say. That I keep my agreements or make new ones if the old ones no longer work for me. That if I have judgements about a person, I speak those judgements to that person. I don’t always accomplish this, but I try. I strive to be authentic in as playful a way as possible. Anger has its place. Anger is about boundary setting. I don’t want to abolish anger, what I want is to learn from it. To use it to know when a boundary has been crossed for me. If you step on a dog’s tail, that dog will yelp and growl as a warning, and then usually that’s all that’s necessary. The only thing on that list that I might take exception to is the confidentiality clause. I don’t keep secrets. On the other hand, I don’t spread them either. I don’t have any secrets anymore. I’ve let them all go out in to the universe. I feel much more freedom for having let go of those what I viewed as shameful secrets. I am who I am, nothing more and nothing less.


Claire Wagner Reply:

Nancy, thanks so much for these beautiful and helpful reflections. I love what you said about secrets. They can be so damaging. But my biggest problem is speaking my judgments openly. I have to learn to speak up directly or shut up.




[…] and how to be a more competent leader in a diverse world. You might remember my previous blogs [respectful communication guidelines] and [3 things you don’t know about me], which drew on the work of Eric H. F. Law, who teaches […]

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