Respectful interaction

Guest contribution by | 18.03.2021

It’s not what you say, but how you say it.

Respectful interaction with and among each other is theoretically quite simple. In practice, not everyone hits the desired note and/or orchestrates in a target-oriented way. Various factors determine whether communication succeeds in a complex system. Suboptimal communication leads to disagreements and, in the worst case, to conflict.

Imagine that a superior looks at you with a very angry face. Angrily he shouts: “You have completely misunderstood the task! And you have completely failed in both the execution and the result!” What does that do to you? How do you feel when you read such lines?

And now imagine that the supervisor uses the exact same words, but laughs all over his face and speaks the sentences in a cheerful voice. You are probably a little less agitated and feel less (or maybe not at all) attacked.

Obviously, communication is not ONLY and exclusively about the spoken word. Several factors are responsible for the success or failure of respectful communication.

What is respect and how can respectful interaction be achieved?

Respect is used as a synonym for qualities such as politeness and appreciation, but also for recognition and deference. But also to express caution, for example when someone says they have great respect for snakes.

Respect is a value that is subject to subjective evaluation. Every person has his or her own definition of this important value. Of course there are standards that tell us what is correct and “right”. But they are just standards and guidelines, and they do not always automatically guarantee respectful interaction.

Respectful interaction is what counts. But how do we treat each other with respect?

  • Listening: Mutual listening is absolutely indispensable for respectful and appreciative interaction.
  • Asking questions: Those who ask questions lead – and that means every communication and every discourse. Questions show interest and promote respectful interaction.
  • Allowing other opinions: Do not force your opinion on anyone or try to convince them of your opinion. Let everyone have their opinion and their point of view. The exchange is in the foreground. Even on “important”, central issues, questions and listening are more constructive than, for example, pressure and threats.
  • Emphasising common ground: Those who emphasise common ground rather than victory in a conversation communicate more constructively than those who threaten or emphasise their “argumentative or hierarchical superiority”.
  • Conveying true messages with feelings: It is feelings that convey messages – not words, arguments, data and facts that we exchange with each other.

We expect, when someone is happy, that this feeling of joy is also perceived. If feelings are not shown or not shown in an understandable way, this can certainly lead to insecurities. Then it is often assessed completely unconsciously that something does not fit or does not feel right. But why? Because there were expectations that were not fulfilled. And because something was interpreted into the situation that was perhaps not there at all. In such situations, questions are a respectful way to recognise the true motivation instead of “misunderstanding”. Those who instead evaluate what they think they have heard or understood, or even interpret something into it, are not communicating respectfully – at least not from my point of view. – Your view may and may not be a completely different one. Because respect is subjective.

It is feelings that convey messages – not words, arguments, data and facts that we exchange with each other. This is the central and most important statement in interpersonal interaction.

Respectful interaction with and among each other is an orchestra. When well coordinated and with consideration and attentiveness to each other, the composition sounds round and sonorous. If, on the other hand, the piece sounds bumpy and incoherent, then better coordination and further practice are necessary. And it needs a conductor, someone who sets the beat and orchestrates the musicians. In the case of communication, each individual is conductor and musician in one person. Conducting here is not done with a baton, but through the factors mentioned:

  • listening,
  • asking questions,
  • allowing opinions,
  • emphasising common ground and
  • conveying feelings.


What specifically do you wish for respectful interaction?

What do you personally wish for in terms of respectful interaction? Do you know your own values?

There are many more people who know what they do NOT want than what they really want. Actually fatal! How do you want to communicate to those around you what factors you want for respectful interaction with each other if you don’t know it yourself?

Of course, the very best thing would be if we could always communicate in a sovereign and neutral manner. At least that would simplify communication, wouldn’t it? – Have you ever spoken to a computer voice? I have, and for me it was not a satisfying experience. I appreciate the values of a good conversation. To find out how my counterpart is doing. What moves him or her and also what values the respective person represents. I want to learn something about the people I am talking to. I also want to show them something of myself. And this is achieved through the feelings that we ALL inevitably have. They are just different.

The simplest rule of thumb for successful communication is: Only say yourself what you want to be said to you! And signal interest by asking questions.

What? How? When? Where? On what? Who?

Questions are the sore point to the magic moment. Asking instead of assuming – this is the only way to be sure not to interpret or evaluate, but to really understand. But there are also differences in questions:

The “why” question often comes at the beginning of an argument. It is often understood as an attack or reproach: “Why are you so late?” has a different effect than “What happened to make you late?”, doesn’t it?

Apart from why-questions, questions are an effective means of respectful communication. Used correctly, they convey interest. They clarify and create transparency. By the way, there are no stupid questions, but at most unpleasant ones.

  • What specifically is still important?
  • How do you see the situation?
  • When exactly did it change?
  • Where is the difference?
  • On what do you notice that the conversation was successful?
  • Who should be informed?

If you don’t know what you are asking, don’t be surprised if you hear what you don’t want. In this sense: Ask questions. Listen. Allow other opinions to be valid. Look for common ground. And communicate your feelings. Then you will probably succeed in respectful interaction and become a popular interlocutor.



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Stephanie Huber has published more posts here in the t2informatik Blog:

t2informatik Blog: Avoid unnecessary conflicts

Avoid unnecessary conflicts

t2informatik Blog: Tolerance and the diversity of opinions

Tolerance and the diversity of opinions

t2informatik Blog: Argue - but do it right

Argue – but do it right

Stephanie Huber

Stephanie Huber

Stephanie Huber is founder and managing director of konSENSation GmbH. She works enthusiastically as a mediator with a focus on business mediation and conflict management and helps companies and executives to improve the working atmosphere.