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Respect: Don’t Let It Be the Wet Blanket on Your Team

Often when we introduce our belief that conflict is a critical ingredient to team success and innovation, the first comment we get is, “Yes, as long as it is done with respect.

The problem is – “respect” is NOT universally defined. What I believe is respectful is one thing and very well may be the opposite of how someone else defines it.

A simple example shows up when people share their preferences related to the personality styles inventory – MBTI.

For those of you unfamiliar with the MBTI, it is a personality inventory used in business. There are four letters that represent an individual’s preference related to energy management, gathering of data, making decisions and creating structure. Each letter runs along a continuum from one extreme to the other.

Let’s take one area, that of how you make decisions. On one end you have people who prefer a Thinking (T) preference. Meaning that the decision is based on logic and fairness. On the other end of the spectrum, there is the Feeling (F) preference – these people prefer harmony and making decisions are based on how people will be impacted. One (T) is about objective: rules/laws and one (F) is about subjective: situational ethics/personal.

In this example, respect is defined very differently. However, neither is wrong.

This is a very simple example. “Respect” is very personal and is self-defined. Saying conflict is okay as long as it is “respectful,” is pretty impossible to manage or ensure.

Of course, actual dialogue about people’s definition of respect might provide an important window into how to maintain that preference. But generally, that is not what occurs in meetings.

Too often, people block conflict by saying it needs to be “respectful” and then never go deeper.

There are various ways to overcome this challenge.

One is to go around the table and ask people to share their beliefs and experiences with conflict. Often this is an insightful exercise and begins to open a window into other people’s definition of respect.

Another option is to take a styles inventory such as the MBTI. Analyses like these help people understand the different styles in how people deal with conflict or stress. They are then able to use that input to create team norms that support the variances in definition and needs.

Still another path, is developing your team’s ability to interrupt and stop the content of a meeting when it’s appears that ‘respect’ has broken down.

Signs Respect Has Broken Down

The signs and signals that respect has broken down are:

  • Talking behind one another’s back

  • Defending

  • Explaining

  • Interruptions

  • Name calling

  • Anger

  • Fear

  • Insults

  • Threats

It’s the person exhibiting these behaviors that believes respect has broken down.

Of course, it’s great the person directly involved can speak up and Check Out if the intention of their teammate is to be disrespectful.

Often people do not recognize or intend to be disrespectful. They have either dropped into their coping stance or are doing what they believe is most useful to make a point.

If someone can speak up and share what they are seeing or hearing and their perspective or opinion that this is potentially disrespectful and check it out things can shift.

The key here is to be willing to suspend the certainty that someone is indeed trying to be disrespectful.

This is one of the reasons why we value things being more openly addressed in team meetings. Often someone who is not as caught in the conflict can reflect what they are seeing and provide a path to allow team members at odds with each other a chance to recognize their impact and potentially shift.

These are a few options for digging deeper into the issue of respect.

Don’t let your team stall from getting to collective creativity because someone throws out the respect blanket. Yes, simply tossing out the word or making it universal can and will be like putting a blanket over conflict, usually a wet one, that puts out a fire but also the potential spark needed for a breakthrough.

Go deeper – take the next step.

Take the time to define respect around the table. Sure, it can get contentious. But it can also get real and that is well worth the effort, both in terms of innovation and in terms of building sustainable trust between team members.

Don’t throw a wet blanket on your team – check it out!


P.S. Want to learn more about how you can help your team become high performing? Check out our book, The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team’s Competitive Advantage. Download our overview Kickstart Your Team. Give us a call and we’ll see how we can help your team: 406.730.2710.


CrisMarie Campbell and Susan Clarke

Coaches, Business Consultants, Speakers and Authors of The Beauty of Conflict

CrisMarie and Susan work leaders and teams, couples in business, and professional women.

They help turnaround dysfunctional teams into high performing, cohesive teams who trust each other, deal with differences directly, and have clarity and alignment on their business strategy so they create great results.

Check out their website: Connect with CrisMarie and Susan on LinkedIn. Watch their TEDx Talk: Conflict – Use It, Don’t Defuse It! Find your copy of The Beauty of Conflict: Harnessing Your Team's Competitive Advantage here.

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