Respect for People Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Any Hint of Criticism

As I said in a post a few years ago on respect for people and Taiichi Ohno‘s sometimes very aggressive style:

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.

Masaaki Imai described Taiichi Ohno’s style this way

he had such a high expectation of the staff and managers under him. If they were not doing something the right way, he would explode. And when he exploded, he really would explode.

But for those who came to him and really asked for help, he was very patient. He wouldn’t give them the answer, but preferred to provide them with enough of an understanding of the situation, as well as help on how they could deal with the problem. So he was very much a teacher and a leader.

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 fully, when he exploded. He was great, but his methods could also be improved. At the same time some extent showing some fire may be helpful at times to get people to take things seriously (avoiding the need for this is even better, but not everything will be done as well as it possible can be).

The pressure of trying to lead a challenging effort into new ground (as Ohno knows better than most) is extremely stressful, his letting off some steam is not surprising even if it isn’t ideal. Criticizing methods he used half a century ago is not necessarily sensible. But I can say such actions, with any frequency today, would likely be a poor decision for a manager.

Personal attacks are not useful. Attacking bad practices and bad thinking is showing respect for people. An environment that is so emotionally immature that criticism of bad practices and ideas is seen as disrespectful is an environment that is in need of improvement. A fundamental aspect of evidence based management is the ability to have thoughtful discussion, debate and criticism of ideas, methods and performance, that people do not take personally.

Dr. Deming included psychology as one of the four components of his management system. Understanding the state of those you are dealing with is important. Some people are going to take criticism of the existing processes or their ideas as personal attacks. To be successful you have to include an understanding of psychology to incorporate that into your discussion. Unlike machines, you can’t expect to treat people the same. Understanding psychology in the management context means knowing that people are different and while you can’t avoid improvement efforts because some will feel uncomfortable, you also want, to the extent possible, to make points while keeping people as comfortable as possible.

Related: Interview with Masaaki Imai – Ohno and Respect for PeopleWorkplace Management by Taiichi Ohnomanagement quotes by Taiichi OhnoBring Me Problems, Even Without Solutions

4 thoughts on “Respect for People Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Any Hint of Criticism

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  4. I agree with you that “respect” doesn’t mean “don’t criticize.” However, it’s one thing to disagree with or criticize an idea… some people (not you) cross a line by being unprofessional and getting person with a person or an organization… or by throwing out unfair accusations and then complaining about “political correctness” when others disagree.


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