Being respectful of others, especially those older than me, was drilled into my behavior at an early age. Today, respectful behaviors and conversations seem in danger of being lost. Social media fuels this lack of respect to the point where only those who agree with your position are welcomed into your tribe or conversation.
This movement away from respectful speech presents real challenges for leaders. It doesn’t help that our unconscious thoughts often reward us emotionally when we form arguments against those persons who disagree with our positions or ideas. No wonder Twitter “lights up” when a politician takes a position we oppose. The disgust or pleasure we feel in our sometimes hate-filled response is almost like a drug.
In my travels this week I had to fly, not one of my favorite forms of transportation. It’s easy to be annoyed by almost anything that happens in an airport. Screeners who act rudely. Fellow travelers who can’t seem to follow instructions. Airline staff who herd us like cattle into the plane.
My brain makes instant judgments about these persons. Some of it is based on logic – there is a reason we have rules and everyone should follow them; dignity is a basic human need. Others are based on emotion – why does she think it’s okay to complain about the quality of the wine, we’re not at a high-end restaurant.
As leaders, when we find someone’s behaviors or ideas hard to respect we look for the reasons they are different. Instead of seeking mutual purpose, we justify how we feel by finding others who share our opinion. Our brain rewards us for these thoughts of disgust or pleasure.
I needed to remind myself this week that my fellow travelers who were annoying me shared some things in common. We were all feeling stressed from being away from home, family, and friends. It’s hard to remember all the rules associated with flying. The staff doesn’t have any control over how much room the cabin has for carry-on luggage.
My point is simple. Respectful behaviors and dialogue are more likely when we stop focusing only on our differences and look for areas of mutual respect or purpose.
Leaders who give up their need to be right in favor of respectful conversations around areas they have in common with others should see better results.
My airport travels illustrated how a shift in my thinking can move me from being annoyed to empathetic. From labeling my fellow travelers as “____” to acting in kind and helpful ways.
Respectful leaders and followers are both needed if we are to tackle today’s most pressing problems. Who’s up to the task?