Do You Really Want Tolerance…Or Respect?

July 20, 2015 10:08 pm Published by

“Tolerance is something you have for alcohol or someone with body odor…versus focusing on Respect.  Respect demands more. It demands an active role.”

I first heard this unique view on tolerance from speaker and author Bruce Jacobs, speaking about his book, “Race Manners.” His basic premise is that you should never let yourself get away with simple tolerance. You don’t want to feel merely tolerated, and neither do others. For example, when I come home at night after a long day of training, I hope my wife is not looking out the window as I drive up and saying to herself, “Oh man…I have to tolerate this guy again?! All night, it’ll be ‘Blah blah blah’ about his day!”  Versus…“Hey, Dave’s home and I want to hear how his training went, because I respect what he does.”  Big difference.

Let me go back to Jacobs: “Respect demands more. It demands an active role.” The “active role,” for me, means we have to work at our relationships. Daily. Hourly if needed.

Merely tolerating is easy. It’s a knee jerk reaction. It requires nothing other than a shoulder shrug and a “whatever” muttered under one’s breath. Respect, however, demands that we stop to confront our assumptions — assumptions that may be based on little (or no) information and stereotypes that are never challenged.  The problem with uncontested assumptions is they can quickly create negative emotions that lead to damaging behavior.

I remember one day at a previous job, I was in my office early in the morning. I noticed a co-worker in the kitchen, getting coffee. I assumed we’d have the normal chit-chat and move on with our respective days. However, he came out of the kitchen and walked right by my office without saying a word to me. My first reaction? Total knee jerk response. “What am I, a hologram?” Then my assumption machine kicked in. “Oh man, I bet we have a problem. Rats! (I didn’t say ‘Rats’). Fine, if that’s the way he wants it, NO problem. He’ll get the silent treatment from me from now on.” Then…I started to realize…I was making a lot of assumptions based on very few facts. The real facts were that he walked past my office without saying anything. But my assumptions said his actions were about me. Now, if I left it there, I know my anger would have turned into bad behavior. And, I would have ended up just merely tolerating him in the short and possible long term…and the work that we needed to get done together would have suffered.

The work of respect demanded that I talk to this person…with candor and respect…to clear the air and find out as much as I could. Which I did. And surprise, surprise, it had nothing to do with me. The result? A new respect for each other. A healthier and stronger relationship. A better place to work, and ultimately, happier customers.

I firmly believe we underestimate what our relationships can bear. We shy away from tough yet needed conversations at work (and in life generally) because we fear the relationship will go south…or there will be push back, retaliation, etc. , if we say what we feel we need to say. So, we default to tolerating (i.e. becoming passive). However, in the meantime the relationship suffers. And when relationships suffer, trust is the true victim. And when we don’t have any trust, important conversations about crucial issues never happen. The result at work? Good people leave, business dies off, and customers go elsewhere.

Instead, let’s think it through. Let’s be people scientists. Let’s do what Steven R. Covey promoted years ago: “Seek first to understand then to be understood.”

In this season of divergent and strong opinions on all sides of social and political issues, perhaps a little less tolerating and a little more work on seeking and building mutual respect can go a long way.

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July 20, 2015 10:08 pm

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