R-E-S-P-E-C-T By Dr. Cindy Watson

How to give and get respect in negotiations



  • Respect—giving and getting—is an important factor in negotiations and produces best outcomes.
  • Too often children and the elderly are not accorded the respect they deserve.
  • Seeing negotiation as competition limits possibilities for good outcomes.
Source: Ilyasick/Pexels

Respect is an important element of negotiation. It’s important to give respect—and to earn it.

At the outset, it is worth noting that the word “respect” is often misused, as in having “grudging respect” for someone. Grudging respect is usually fear-based at its core. When people comply, obey, or demur out of fear, that is not actually respect, and it is definitely not a healthy basis for negotiations in a relationship (whether personal or professional). When people try to exert power over another (as opposed to power with another), even when successful, there is no earned respect and, therefore, no strong foundation for effective negotiation or superior outcomes.

Having said that, it is possible to respect someone’s achievements without liking how they got there. It is also possible to respect someone’s achievements and the process and still not like the person.

Respect is recognizing someone else’s humanity or personhood. It is seeking to listen to and understand the other person. It is ensuring one does not see other people as mere means to an end. Many think this is tricky in negotiation, but such a view likely stems from a win-lose, zero-sum approach to negotiation as opposed to a collaborative, principled, and integrative approach.

A fixed-mindset approach to negotiations can interfere with the ability to bring the requisite level of respect to the table and so interfere with one’s ability to get better buy-in and better outcomes. People often take such an approach based on widely accepted conditioning and myths about negotiation. These myths include the idea that negotiation is a competition, that successful negotiations are all about toughness ,and that one ought never cede any ground. None of these myths hold any truth.

Self-protection is another key source of interference in one’s ability to give (and so receive) respect in negotiation relationships. When operating from self-protective mode as opposed to self-leadership, people are less able to present the best version of themselves and show respect to other party.

There are many scenarios in which people struggle with respecting the other party in a negotiation, whether consciously or unconsciously. It is worth exploring some to raise one’s intentionality about incorporating respect as a foundation in all one’s negotiations.

Dealing with Children

In negotiating with children, many people do not truly listen or seek to understand and meet the needs of the child. Many do not drop all distractions, give undivided attention, or listen without interrupting or interjecting opinions, suggestions, or interpretations.

Many people tend to exert power over children rather than seek to establish power with them. Adults tend to assume they know best. Such a lack of respect can make children feel unvalued, unimportant, or “less than’”. It also interferes with the ability to come to mutually superior solutions. Perhaps most important, if not giving respect, one is not likely to earn authentic respect. It is important to be intentional about bringing respect to all discussions when negotiating in relationships with children.

This approach becomes even more challenging as children transition into adulthood. For parents, letting go can be difficult. When there is resistance to that, many fail to give the much-needed respect to ensure self-esteem and ability to grow in healthy ways (in their relationship with parents and beyond).

Fears, hopes, and dreams drive the urge to interfere, overwhelm, and smother when what’s needed is a pause, a deep breath, and a perspective shift. When a child’s viewpoint is valued and respected, there is more likely to be reciprocal respect.

Dealing with the Elderly

The challenges of transition as kids grow into adults are echoed in dealing with elderly people. Many tend to drop the ball in negotiating a relationship with aging parents (or other seniors) as well. This often stems from fear. It can be difficult to see once seemingly all-knowing and powerful parents decline, and many people respond by imposing personal views. After a lifetime of contribution, respect is deserved.

Dealing with Coworkers

In the workplace, as coworkers grow, develop, and transition to next levels, it can be difficult to accommodate such changes. Many continue to treat former subordinates as underlings and, in so doing, disrespect them and damage the relationship in the process.

Dealing with Mental Health Issues

It is important to consider how much respect is due to people with mental health issues. Too often,, a dismissive, disrespectful approach is often taken in such situations. It is important to give respect and trust, attend to verbal and nonverbal communication, and be intentional about understanding the issue(s) from the other person’s perspective. It is important not to try to “help” by exerting power over them.

In any negotiation, whether personal or professional, it is important to remember to give respect, and it will be reciprocated. In so doing, better outcomes can be achieved with corresponding better relationships and buy-in.

Dr. Cindy Watson

Cindy Watson is the founder of Women On Purpose and creator of the Art of Feminine Negotiation programs. She’s also founder and managing partner of Watson Labour Lawyers, as an attorney specializing in social justice law for 30 years.

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