Respect For People

Respect for People

I’m just back from a great Lean Agile Scotland 2012 conference (of which, more in a later post). I very much enjoyed presenting a session as part of the Rightshifting Fest, as well as participating in some great sessions by other folks I have come to admire.

Liz Keogh’s keynote, opening the Saturday morning, impressed me, both with the depth of its research and thoughtfulness, and the courageous choice of topic – plus setting a very appropriate tone for the Rightshifting sessions that followed.

Liz focused on “Respect” as one of the two “Pillars of the Toyota Way“. In particular I felt the etymological root of the word chimed with my own understanding of the term:

Respect – re-spect (from Latin rēspicere  to look back, pay attention to,  re- “back” + specere “look at”) i.e. to look again, to challenge or reconsider our initial judgement or assumption(s) about someone or something.

Even the simple notion of respect in the workplace often seems contentious, or at best a nice-to-have. Liz echoed my own feelings that much of the language of work – including much of the language of Agile – actively undermines respect, and in doing so reduces folks’ joy and engagement in their work. For knowledge-work in particular, this can be highly dysfunctional.

If I were not presently so enamoured of Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC), I may well have applauded Liz’s presentation unreservedly. But I do have one reservation I’d like to explore: Judgmentalism.


Even as long ago as the era of the New Testament, Matthew cautions against the hypocrisy and censoriousness of passing judgement on one another:

“Judge not, that ye be not judged.
For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you.
And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?
Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me cast out the mote out of thine eye; and lo, the beam is in thine own eye?
Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.”

~ Matthew 7:1-5

Setting aside the language of obligation and domination (what Rosenberg calls “Jackal language“) common to many religious texts, how does this relate to respect?

For me, implicit in the idea of respect, as Liz indicates, is the implication that we will look again. I take this to mean that a respectful position is one where we may afford ourselves the opportunity to judge again.

“[Our] judgements of others are alienated expressions of our own unmet needs.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Personally, I would feel more comfortable to recast this as the opportunity to reject our initial (and nearly always automatic and subconscious) leap to judgement in favour of compassion (both for ourselves and the person we’re judging). This stance also seems aligned to the idea of equanimity. In other words, I share Rosenberg’s view that:

“Classifying and judging people promotes violence.”

and violence (and abuse) makes me feel both sad and angry. I believe that I have a need to see folks treated with honesty, kindness, empathy and non-violence – and judging someone, however implicit or unintentional, feels inimical to that.

What I want in my life is compassion, a flow between myself and others based on a mutual giving from the heart.

Note to self: I’m still learning the ropes, here, myself, and feel a need to be more authentic, more skilful.

“The Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti once remarked that observing without evaluating is the highest form of human intelligence. When I first read this statement, the thought, “What nonsense!” shot through my mind before I realized that I had just made an evaluation. For most of us, it is difficult to make observations, especially of people and their behavior, that are free of judgement, criticism, or other forms of analysis.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

If you don’t chime with my discomfort regarding the notion of judgmentalism, but would like to know more, I can but recommend Marshall Rosenberg’s book “Nonviolent Communication”.

“There’s nothing wrong (or right) with judgmentalism, but do folks understand the impact it has on their life and their way of being in the world?”


“It is our nature to enjoy giving and receiving compassionately. We have, however, learned many forms of life-alienating communication that lead us to speak and behave in ways that injure others and ourselves. One form of life-alienating communication is the use of moralistic judgements that imply wrongness or badness on the part of those who don’t act in harmony with our values. Another is the use of comparisons, which can block compassion both for others and for ourselves. Life-alienating communication also obscures our awareness that we are each responsible for our own thoughts, feelings, and actions. Communicating our desires in the form of demands is yet another characteristic of language that blocks compassion.”

~ Marshall Rosenberg

Is this nit-picking, or has the distinction between judgemental and non-judgemental respect any significance in the world of work? I’d say yes, but then, that’s why I wrote this post – to draw the distinction. Would you be willing to share how you feel about it?

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”

~ Rumi

– Bob

Further Reading

Crucial Conversations, Respect and Kanban ~ Mike Burroughs blog post
The Mote and the Beam – Wikipedia entry
Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life ~ Marshall B. Rosenberg
Power and Love ~ Adam Kahane

  1. I agree with the idea of stopping the knee jerk reaction and looking again. I think a danger is that we do not challenge ideas and actions to learn the limits of the ideas and trying determining if the idea could/would/is harmful in the current context. This is often categorized as judgmental but it seems it is necessary for making the best decisions. This can be done without being disrespectful or arrogant or… I think. It is not easy though. I know for me I always have a response on the end of my tongue for everything I hear and it is really difficult to hold that reaction in and to openly think about the idea.

  2. Thank you Bob. For someone who tends to be judgmental way too often I find your reflection inspiring. I believe that non-judgmental respect is important both from the point of view of the person being addressed as well as myself. If I can become more aware and less judgmental myself I remove the frustration and anger that invariably follows negative judgments.
    And as we talk about respect, would you consider looking again at the translation of Matthew which you picked… I found it less accessible then the other versions I know of.

  3. P.S. I wonder if there is a link between respect and my comment needing to pass the judgment of moderation 😉

  4. I really was initially seeking for suggestions for my weblog and noticed ur article, “Respect For People Think Different”, will you care if I really apply a number of your suggestions?
    Appreciate it -Anthony

  5. Mohd Shadab said:

    This is so relevant for our work places, where we continue to rate/rank people, demean them creating a hostile environment where innovation/creativity cannot happen. Respect for People should be the key attribute for any team setting.

  6. wizewerx said:

    Bob, thank you for a post that although I found a little hard to read, nonetheless focused my thinking on this very important of social constructs. Please can you help me validate what your main point is:

    Respect, as you understand it to be generally used, is often based on our initial judgement of the other person. Your position is that judgement of the person encourages violence – in terms of Rosenberg’s NVC?

    Is that the key point?

    Here is my take:

    I have, for as long as I can remember, considered respect quite differently. For me, everyone has it – simple.

    Respect, for me, does not imply particular affection nor dislike. How do I demonstrate that respect – by letting people express themselves in whatever way they see fit. Now this where judgement comes in for me. I judge their expression (not them). I respect you , you can say whatever you like – however I get to judge whether what you say works for me. The outcome of that judgement is simply if I am in agreement with what you said or not.

    I think judgement is a crucial part of us as beings, the question for me is about how and to what it is applied. I suspect the popular application is judging the speaker and not determining agreement with what was spoken. Typically transferring the respect for an act to the actor. They are different, however subtly.

    What do you think of this approach?

  7. Hi Mike,

    Thanks for joining the conversation. Sorry to hear you found the post a little hard to read.

    My concern about respect is that it implies judgment. And my concern about judgement is that “ultimately, it provokes defensiveness, resistance, and counterattack.” (Here I use term judgement as in “evaluation” – seeing what someone does as in some way “wrong”, or even “right”, for that matter).

    The definition you provide here for “Respect” I would rather call something like “Unconditional Positive Regard” cf Carl Rogers. Gandhi said “Hate the sin, love the sinner”.

    Rosenberg suggest we limit our evaluations – aka judgements – to “need-serving” judgements, not moralistic judgements.

    For more about this, see eg circa 00:34:00 here:

    I suspect our relative positions on this are not too far apart, although likely fairly far away from the mainstream understanding of “respect”, and use of judgments.

    I’m not sure I understand the “approach” regarding which you seek my thoughts.

    – Bob

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: