R – E – S – P – E – C –T
Find out what it means to me
- Aretha Franklin sings.
Well, what does it mean? And why does Aretha think that her man is not only failing to show her respect, he doesn’t even get what she’s looking for, which is what he needs to find out?
What’s different about respect from other trouble-smoothing interpersonal currents is that it really bears minimal cost. Some virtues that we’re preached at to show do cost us: saying sorry, for example; it might be the right thing to do but you might as well acknowledge that apologising is genuinely painful. That’s its cost. Or listening to someone complain about their life when you have something you want to get on with – praiseworthy to do but it does cost your time and probably your patience. But showing respect really costs nothing.
So, it’s strange that feeling disrespected is one of the most potent goads to anger. Fights flare when someone feels they’ve been dissed. Many a stabbing and shooting and sudden senseless death has been caused when the wounder or killer believed they’d been dissed. The anger and worry about feeling disrespected must go so deep because humans are social animals with a sense of status and hierarchy within a group. Indications of respect are used to maintain group positions, but the connected sensitivities and humiliations get carried over to one-on-one dealings where, free of group hierarchy, they are not really necessary. As I’ve said, in close and personal one-to-one relations, there is no cost to showing respect.
So – find out what it means to me – it means granting equality to the other person within the interaction or dialogue. For example, a tycoon in a restaurant can treat the waiter/waitress with respect by treating him/her as an equal in their interaction at the table. Of course, they are not equal in societal status or power, but within their limited interaction at the table they can be equal, and at no cost to either. On the contrary, it’s when the tycoon shows contempt to the server that there’s a cost: the waiter pays in bitter feeling and the tycoon may well pay by swallowing the waiter’s spit in his soup. It’s the same with Aretha and her man, he needs to treat her as an equal in their interaction whatever their differences may be outside that interaction, it’s all I’m askin’ for…
In negotiation, showing respect is essential. The mediator can have some influence on two sides who are failing to show respect to each other by personally showing it to both disputants. Consciously or unconsciously they will tend to copy the mediator.
Ed Cooper is a retired consultant paediatrician and family therapist and a long-standing supporter of ASMADR.