Nine Aspects of Respect and Disrespect: A Guide for Conflict Resolution

 

People often mis-use the word “respect” to mean, “The state or quality that makes you defer to me.”  In fact, people often confuse respect with fear.

  1. Fear is Good.  Fear can Aspects of Respect and Disrespectbe an effective motivator to get people to defer to a leader.  Ask Josef Stalin.
  2. Fear is Bad. Fear is unlikely to get the best performance out of employees or true loyalty out of others unless it is combined with more positive motivators.  We all know this from our own experience in difficult workplaces.  It is a bad manager who believes leadership comes solely from fear and criticism.
  3. If Respect=Fear, People May Choose to Leave Instead of Obey. In personal relationships or in the workplace, people have more of a choice than they do living in a totalitarian state. Often they choose to leave rather than to live in fear of someone who demands deference. They can also be motivated to find ways to push that person aside.
  4. Honor.  The dictionary defines “respect” as being esteemed or honored. Why is one esteemed or honored? Because of some personal quality or achievement. People look up to someone who is respected.  Maybe they want to be like him. Maybe they think she has qualities that give her special wisdom, insight or strength. They defer to her because they want to defer to her, not because they fear her.
  5. Acknowledging Boundaries. In conflict situations, we see a third type of respect: respect for personal boundaries. If you acknowledge to your counterparties that they are legitimately entitled to decide how far to go in a particular negotiation, it has tremendous power to de-escalate the conflict. In fact, it often allows them to make concessions they otherwise would not. Any amicable agreement requires at least a bit of acknowledgement.
  6. Disregarding Boundaries. On the other hand, crossing interpersonal boundaries generates anger.  Sometimes one person acts in a way that triggers a response like stepping on a rattlesnake. Watch for that.
  7. Unstable Boundaries. Be careful of people with certain common personality disorders that involve unstable interpersonal boundaries. Some of them appear to be high functioning but have unpredictable hair trigger tempers when innocent actions cross a boundary that may not have been there a few minutes earlier. Their anger seems irrational to outsiders. In conflict resolution circles, they are sometimes known as “high conflict personalities.” In daily life, they may confuse reluctance to spark their tempers as respect, when it is really just appeasement to keep the peace. People who have these tendencies should consciously acknowledge that there are limits to others’ willingness to appease. People who interact with them should focus on desired outcomes rather than the people themselves, like the classic parenting advice to “criticize the behavior, not the child.” Keep your relationship transactional or develop a Teflon skin.
  8. Dealing with Bad People. Some people do not care if they respect boundaries.  They may be feel that they are entitled to a good temper tantrum now and then, feel that they are entitled to take whatever they want as long as they can get away with it or simply feel their counterpart’s perception of what is overreaching is off-base.  In these cases, it may make sense to involve a third party neutral like a mediator or coach, or even a third party decision maker like a court or arbitrator.  For extreme cases, see Professor Robert Mnookin’s book Bargaining With the Devil for a discussion of when to bargain with evil.
  9. The Dangers of Disrespect. Be aware that if you come off as not respecting the other party, you run risks. You increase the risk of a prolonged battle or (in a legal dispute) litigation.  You risk damaging the other party’s trust that you will follow through on a negotiated solution. You risk the other party’s responding to your disrespect with more disrespect (as often happens in difficult marriages). All this may be necessary, but make it a conscious decision. In other words, if you cannot respect your counterpart, at least respect the consequences.

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