In every culture respect is important, and it invariably means different things to different people. We live and work where cross-cultural communication is nuanced and adds a layer of unnecessary complexity. Given we accept people will work smarter and harder with us if we respect them, we ought to try harder to be respectful, especially if ultimately respect is a tool helping us achieve sustainable success.
When working in most multi-cultural environments, these differences in how ‘Respect’ is viewed can cause communication challenges. The key is in understanding what ‘Respect’ means where you are, and to the people who are surrounding you. In many cultures, individuals are considered to be worthy of respect until they prove otherwise. In other cultures, people have to earn respect rather than lose it.
Dictionary definitions of ‘Respect’ make it clear we need to recognise how we are using the word. We need to know whether we are expressing a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their competencies or capabilities, their qualities or their achievements. We might mean a basic regard for the feelings and wishes of others. As a verb, we might use ‘Respect’ to say we consider someone positively or express my due regard for their rights.
Taking time to understand the type of respect we mean ought to ensure our communication works more effectively and is well-received. As we all know, communication can go terribly wrong; we set out with the best intentions to express some form of respect but either our filters or the other person’s filters get in the way and mangle any good intentions of the communication. We do not react to what we see and hear; rather, we react to what we think about what we see and hear and this depends on filters such as gender, age, race, religion, education, societal issues and our own inner workings.
Our filters are the sum of our experiences based on these variables, so what means ‘Respect’ to you could mean something quite different to someone else. For example, perhaps you find it disrespectful to be late. So you work very hard at not being late. Yet for others, ‘lateness’ is a variable term. And you are probably right about lateness when seen through my filters. But you may be in the minority on this in a particular culture and to express respect to others, you might have to recalibrate your filters regarding lateness. This is not about who is right or wrong, but about learning to communicate effectively and express and receive messages of respect in a reflective manner.
To that end how you behave when you want to show respect will change and shift. You may be more deferential and congratulatory with one person because this is what you think they need. This allows you to take note of responses and thus change as necessary. Taking note of responses from others is critical. It is by doing this we can tell whether or not we are getting the reaction we want.
Again, it is important to acknowledge how we perceive the response is a result of our own filters. If you feel that you may have been misunderstood or misinterpreted you can stop, step outside of the conversation you’re having, and ask. This is not about changing your personality; you still feel the same, but you think about how to help the other person understand you. It’s about getting the results you are working towards and working effectively with the people around you, be they higher up the hierarchy to you, junior to you, suppliers or customers.