Otis Redding wrote the song “Respect” in 1965.  Aretha Franklin made it mainstream in 1967.

Respect is clearly important.  Most people, I think, want to be able to both give and get respect.  But giving and getting respect is not easy.  Indeed, some of our most painful moments may come when we recognize that we are not respected, or when we fail to respect other people.

One of the times when we can fail to either earn or show respect is when we are responding to an idea.  We respond to ideas all the time.

For example, when you submit a resume to a company in hopes of landing a job, you’re really presenting them with an idea (“You should hire me!”)  How they respond to that idea is almost certainly going to change how you view that company.  If they treat you with real respect, even if they don’t offer you a job, you’ll probably still respect them.  But if they treat you like dirt, well, then you’ll probably have a very negative view of that company going forward.

Of course, if you’re part of an organization, you will both offer ideas and be asked to respond to ideas.  I think all of us have been in situations where someone has come to us with an idea and we hesitate to give them a response.  Why do we hesitate?  As it turns out, there’s a good reason for it!

And finally, what if you are in the position of wanting to offer an idea to someone else?  Maybe someone you really care about, someone who you desperately want to help.  In these situations, offering an idea can carry all kinds of risk.  One of the risks is emotional.  It can hurt when we offer what we believe is an excellent idea only to have it ignored or rejected out of hand.

My good friend Mike Round sent me this poem,  Please check it out, paying special attention to the last two lines:

He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven
by William Butler Yeats

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

I believe that how we respond to the ideas people bring to us has a huge effect on our personal success and the satisfaction we receive from our work.  If we respond to ideas in a good way we will greatly improve our interpersonal relationships and, ultimately, come to earn real respect from others.  On the other hand, if we respond poorly to ideas offered to us, is it surprising that we would not gain the respect of others?

I think this subject is also important in being able to understand how people will often react to ideas we bring to them.  While I don’t think we can completely eliminate the sting of having our ideas ignored by someone we are trying to help, understanding what’s going on under the surface can help us to properly process the situation and ultimately let go of our anger.

Dr. Goldratt shares his insightful analysis of this subject in his “Satellite Series” of presentations. He did this set of presentations years ago but I still find them invaluable. If you have the opportunity to do so, I think they are worth seeing.

So what is it that makes giving a proper response to an idea so difficult? It is that responding to an idea usually puts us into a conflict (a dilemma.)

Let’s say that you want to respond in the best possible way to ideas that people bring to you. What does it really mean to respond “in the best way?”

Dr. Goldratt identified two necessary conditions.

The first necessary condition for a good response is to ensure that if the idea is implemented, it will not lead to negative outcomes. Said differently, if the idea is implemented, it must bring about a net improvement in the performance of the system itself.

The second necessary condition is that a good response cannot hurt, or damage, the relationships between the person bringing the idea (the “inventor”) and the person to whom the idea is being presented (the “evaluator.”)

Is it clear that we have to achieve both of these conditions in order to be “giving a good response” to someone’s idea? Allowing bad ideas to be implemented cannot be said to be giving a good response. And yet, at the same time, offending someone who is simply trying to help improve the system is also not a good response.

If people always brought us good ideas, there would be no conflict, no dilemma, no problem to speak of. But isn’t it almost always the case that when someone brings us an idea, we have some reservations about it? Maybe we believe that implementing the idea would lead to some bad things, but we can’t immediately say what those bad things are. And even if we can identify some concerns regarding the idea, aren’t we very careful about how we share our concerns with the inventor? Why are we careful? Why do we try to choose exactly the right words? Because we care about the relationship with the inventor. We recognize that he or she might have spent weeks, months or even years thinking about the idea. So we treat it with great care.

Dr. Goldratt has said that “Ignoring a person’s idea is a rude form of disrespect.” I fully agree with this.

If you disagree, please consider the “Town Hall” meetings that were held earlier this summer. Where is all of this anger coming from? I belive it is coming, in part, from a sense on the part of ordinary citizens that their government has not been listening to their ideas (their suggestions, their complaints) for many, many years. The citizens can see what’s happening. And yet, when they present their ideas and concerns, those ideas and concerns are largely ignored. The government, in other words, is responding in a way that is “a rude form of disrespect.”

When you want to share an idea with someone, is it fair to say that you are enthusiastic about the idea? Probably, and usually, the more you have thought and sweated over the idea and its details, the more enthusiastic you become. If the idea seems to be a good one, you might even take some big risks in terms of presenting the idea.

I once had a powerful idea for a client of mine. The idea was so good that I risked getting fired in order to present the idea to the client’s Executive Committee. Do you know how big a risk that was? I jumped about four levels in the command hierarchy to do that. It was a huge risk. Fortunately, the idea was so good that I did not lose my job as a result of it. But I still paid a high price for doing it. And I will probably never take such a risk again for that client.

As the inventor, not only will you often be enthusiastic, but you will often tend to focus on the benefits of implementing the idea (“This is going to be so great ….”) and you will tend to be blind to any problems that would result by implementing the idea. When people ignore the negative ramifications of their ideas, we often call this “hand waving.” It means not giving a satisfactory answer to a perceived problem with the idea.

If inventors are usually blind to the problems that their ideas will create, then when someone brings you an idea, it’s quite likely that you will recognize those negatives. You will, in fact, have valid reasons for wanting to criticize the idea.

And yet, if the inventor is enthusiastic about the idea and expects that it will bring big benefits, then he or she is almost certainly expecting to be praised for the idea. When presenting the idea the inventor does not expect to be criticized; he or she expects profuse thanks.

So now the final elements of the confict are clear. When someone brings you an idea, it’s often the case that you find yourself having to criticize the idea and, at the very same time, praise it. Criticize the idea so that the negative aspects of it are identified and hopefully corrected. Praise it in order to maintain good relations with the inventor of the idea.

It might seem as if there is no solution to this dilemma. Isn’t praising something exactly the reverse of criticizing it?

As he always does, Dr. Goldatt has a solution to this dilemma. I’ll talk about that solution in my next blog post. Perhaps, in the mean time, you can think of your own solutions to this dilemma.