7 Practical Ways to Respect People

By Ron Pereira Updated on January 13th, 2011

How many times have you heard lean advocates ramble on about how respecting people is a key tenet of the vaunted Toyota Production System? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this AND written it myself here on LSS Academy.

And while it’s true… respecting people is mandatory…what does this really mean?

How exactly do you respect people? It may sound like a simple question but I contend it’s anything but simple.

With this said, I hope to share some of my thoughts on some practical things we can all do starting today to respect people no matter if our job title is Senior Vice President or Mom.

1. Look at people when they talk to you

Have you ever been asked to come to someone’s big office for a meeting only to find them checking their Blackberry or email more than actually listening to you? This is NOT respecting people.

So, the next time you engage in a conversation – even a short one at the water cooler – look the person in the eyes when they’re speaking to you. If this means closing the lid of your laptop or putting your Crackberry in your desk drawer with the ringer and vibrate function turned off… do it.

2. Listen. Really Listen.

And as you’re looking the person in the eyes listen to them. Really listen. Often times this requires you to say a few things back that actually contain some substance.

3. Don’t always agree

Some think that to be respectful you can never disagree. This is ridiculous. My old boss at Nokia used to tell his management team that if all 8 of us agreed he had 7 too many people in the room. So true.

4. Don’t simply disagree to justify your existence

With this said, don’t attempt to always find at least one thing to disagree on in attempts to somehow feel like you’re justifying your existence.

If you agree with a point and can’t add anything to it… just say something like, “Sounds great. You’ve obviously done your homework. Let me know if I can help.”

5. Engage the Gemba

Another favorite we lean practitioners like to talk about is genchi genbutsu, which literally means to go to the place the work is done to see with your own eyes.

There are many benefits to this… but one that doesn’t get enough press, in my opinion, is that by going to the gemba you’re able to actually engage in the situation. In fact, you may be able to actually get your hands dirty while helping to solve the problem.

6. Increase the tension

One of the so called contradictions of Toyota is that they often place incredible tension throughout the organization.

This is sometimes done by setting incredibly difficult goals and targets. It’s also done by constantly preaching how the sky is falling and all associates must do their part to help the company stay in business.

So, while there must be a balance, I do think ensuring a fair share of tension exists throughout the organization is a good thing.

7. See the forest

Finally, as a leader one of the most respectful things you can do is to keep your eyes down field.

In other words, don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees. Because if you do bad things will eventually happen… meaning that conversation you’re having – while looking the employee in the eyes – may not be fun.

What do you think?

What other ways, dear readers, can you think of to respect people?

  1. Alex Simpson

    February 2, 2009 - 8:28 pm

    Great list. How about this for #7: Ask why, a lot.

  2. Alex Simpson

    February 2, 2009 - 8:29 pm

    Oops, I meant how about this for #8!

  3. John Hunter

    February 3, 2009 - 8:35 am

    Great post. Don’t waste people’s time: have meetings only when necessary and provide agendas in advance. Do what you say you will. Provide bad news early (don’t hope it will get fixed somehow, let people know what is going on). Pay people fairly.

    Put the long term success of all stakeholders as the focus (don’t risk people’s jobs for short term bonuses, don’t use large amounts of leverage risking the future of the company…) – respect all stakeholders and provide them confidence their long term success is important. Companies that find themselves laying off workers due to managements failure to succeed over the long term are not being respectful to those workers.

    Tell people what they can do to improve. Create an environment where people are not afraid of learning then can improve and how to do so. Don’t expect a few people to do far more than their fair share of work because management allows poor performance to continue un-addressed. Assist people when they need help. Provide encouragement when people try new things. Support risk taking. Provide the right tools to do the job (don’t expect people to work with outdated machines, poor software applications…).

  4. Ron Pereira

    February 3, 2009 - 11:27 pm

    Thanks for the comments gents!

  5. Larry Olson

    March 14, 2009 - 5:01 am

    When faced with a person that makes a claim to know about someone or something that you find to be very unlikely (Such as a rumor), a good response that can avoid an arguement over that claim would be to ask “How do you know”?, and then remain silent while they struggle to come up with an appropriate answer.

  6. Hiroaki Kokudai

    March 12, 2010 - 8:29 pm

    Hi Ron:
    We met each other last days!
    I was curious to see you blog and I liked this page. I am learnig even after my 67 years lived!
    Have a nice and deserved week end!

    Hiro, from Brazil!

  7. Ron Pereira

    March 12, 2010 - 8:33 pm

    You too, Hiro! It was nice finally meeting you and I look forward to bringing Gemba Academy to Brazil! Safe travels home my friend.

  8. Tony Lewis

    February 6, 2013 - 12:06 am

    Hi Ron.

    I know this is an old article, but I have only just found your website.

    Anyway I would like to add that clear communication of the goals is very important to keep a team focused. I am from a Project Management background, not so much lean experience but I think this still applies.

    Thanks again for the great content, I will be checking back regularly.


  9. Paul Cedeno

    November 3, 2011 - 11:48 am

    It has been very educational and informative reading your posts. We actually bought some of your DVDs and started a training for new people coming into the company, and I’ve always wanted to write you and thank you for focusing Lean manufacturing more on respecting people in enviroments were lean practices can turn easily into “MEAN” manufacturing as you once said.
    In our company, has been a battle that I beleive we are winning over the years; the more we focus on people the better results we get.
    Finally, I can humbly add to your list “Communication”. Some times there is in companies someone who knows “everything” and expect from everybody else the same and as a consecuence there is no information transfered down stream when there is a change or modification or improvment. So, basiclly it is imposed by the guru, and there is la lack of involving people who can add from their experience, skills and knowledge to the process beeing changed.

    Again, thanks a lot for making Lean more human.

  10. Ron Pereira

    November 3, 2011 - 11:50 am

    Thanks for the great comments and very kind words, Paul. I really appreciate both. 😉

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