Who or What Deserves Your Respect?

Every so often, you see someone who inspires you. These people seem to achieve “more” in some way. You respect them for their actions.

Sometimes, you see people who talk a good game. And, their actions don’t appear to live up to their talk. You might not disrespect them, but you don’t respect them.

That got me thinking about what respect means, who might deserve our respect, and how we might see respect.

First, here’s what I mean by respect (the dictionary.com definition):

  • To hold in esteem or honor
  • To show regard or consideration for

Who Deserves Respect?

My grandmother thought I should respect her because she was old. Being old is a matter of luck and taking care of yourself.

My problem? She didn’t extend respect to me. She regularly demeaned my achievements, thoughts, and questions. For her, respect went one way—from me to her. I didn’t (and still don’t) buy that idea of respect.

I learned something important from that relationship. I have little respect for people because they managed to live longer than I have.

I can be happy about their long life. I might envy them. But respect them for their age? Not me. (You might, and that’s fine. I respect your choice.)

I’ve had managers who expected me to respect them because they were older than I was and/or they had more title-based power in the organization. They also expected that one-way version of respect.

I don’t buy that one-way version of respect either. Titles are not achievements we need to honor. Titles are often a mashup of past achievements and negotiation power, not necessarily something I hold in esteem or want to show regard for.

For me, one-way respect is not respectful to the other person. It’s incongruent. (See Can You “Just” Anything?)

How Can You Extend Respect?

How do you show respect? Some possibilities:

  • Extending and receiving courtesy in words and actions.
  • Being honest about your achievements and who has helped you. (I am a product of all my learning and experiences to date. I have been fortunate to learn from famous and not-so-famous people.)
  • Being gracious in accepting your foibles and other people’s foibles.

To me, respect is a way to grease the social contract we have with others. It’s a lot like trust. It’s part of integrity.

Respect needs to be mutual.

I see one particular lack-of-mutual-respect problem a lot. Too many managers don’t respect people’s ability to manage their work. Some examples:

  • When managers attempt to impose a set of project or work practices the managers don’t have to use. (“Agile is for the teams.”)
  • When managers estimate on behalf of a team and the team has to live up to the estimate. (“It can’t possibly be more difficult. The team will have to work harder.”)
  • When managers or designers/architects get to do interesting work. Once they finish the interesting work, the team “just” implements the work.

If you’ve ever said or done these things, please rethink your actions. These actions do not show mutual respect to the people you serve.

Have I failed to give myself and others enough respect? Of course. I’m a messy human, same as you. I’ve been thoughtless. And, even when I thought I made the best possible choices at the time, I have learned since then.

That’s the question this week: Who or what deserves your respect?

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