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