Respect for People

A very thoughtful post, Respect for People on the Kaikaku blog raises some interesting questions. What does respect for people really mean?

Toyota empowers people: To stop the line – to stop every other worker from working – that is real respect and trust. To implement creative improvement ideas around their work area. They trust you to come up with the best idea to make your work easier and more interesting. You don’t have to wait for management to tell you what to do. By asking people to solve problems and become problem solvers.

Those are indications of respect. The post also notes “Ohno was absolutely ruthless, employees and suppliers lived in fear of him.” I would say that while Taiichi Ohno was truly remarkable that doesn’t mean he did everything right. And he might well have failed to communicate in a way that conveyed respect for people. That doesn’t mean doing so is good. It might mean that if you offer as much positive value as Ohno did people may be more forgiving of your weaknesses (I know that is my tendency).

The difference between respect and disrespect is not avoiding avoiding criticism. In fact often if you respect someone you can be much more direct and critical than you can with someone you treat as though they don’t have the ability to listen to hard truths and improve. I think we often have so little respect for people we just avoid dealing with anything touchy because we don’t want to risk they won’t be able to react to the issues raised and will instead just react as if they have been personally attacked. It may also be that it is easier to train managers to behave in this way than in effectively dealing with thought issues. But that is not training them to respect people it is your organization accepting you don’t respect your people (managers and others) so just train people how to behave in a way that avoids difficult areas.

One way to communicate respect is when you are critical to criticize the behavior or action not the person. When you criticize a person’s self instead of an action it is very likely to be taken poorly.

I don’t feel I have the ability to present how I see in a way that is easy to follow. But I will try. It is possible to separate respect (which is the state of mind on the person [say management]), communicating respect (which is the ability, of say the manger, to communicate that respect [their state of mind] to others) and communication of content (say the message the manger wants to deliver).

Without respect one way to communicate content without making people feel they are not respected is to avoid any difficult areas and avoid being critical. Avoid confrontation. Speak in the passive voice and act as though difficult decisions are not choices but things imposed on us. It can see that there is respect because no disrespect is verbalized but in truth avoiding criticism is not the same thing as respect.

It is possible to communicate content in a way that is very critical and demanding and yet maintain respect for people. In America this is becoming more and more difficult because, it seems to me, we confuse respect with avoiding anything that might possibly be taken poorly by someone else. This complicates how you communicate respect (though not the actual feeling of respect itself).

Managers in the West normally tell people what to do and rarely ever ask them and listen to their ideas. Listening and empowering people to implement their own ideas are the key to real respect. And develops and educates them – they continually train you on the job and will pay for your college education.

Like so many seemingly simple ideas, “respect for people,” is not nearly as simple as it may seem.