The R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Icebreaker

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R.E.S.P.E.C.T.  Since Aretha Franklin’s recent death, I’ve been hearing this song everywhere – blaring from a bar as I walk past, on someone’s phone at the next table over, from the stage at a concert.  And respect always ends on a list of ground rules for meetings I facilitate.  Wouldn’t it be great if we had a definition we all agreed on?  Even better would be the behaviors and practices of respect – what respect looks like in action.

I think of respect as having two parts:  The basic respect that you get simply by being born, and the respect you earn.  Anything you earn you can lose.  What you are born with, stays.

An example of basic respect is being acknowledged.  I can acknowledge another’s presence, their humanity, or words they’ve spoken.  Basic respect doesn’t have to include liking or agreeing, it’s simply acknowledging what is.  Paraphrasing is an excellent way to show respect without agreement.  In one economical motion you acknowledge their presence, humanity and what they have said.

Paraphrasing?  Not again.

Oh, yes, Grasshopper – again and again and again.  All the listening skills you’ve learned and discarded as too cumbersome?  They are skills for respecting others, especially when that other is not like you.  Perhaps they are female to your male, introvert to your extrovert, brown or black to your white, lower or higher on the hierarchy.  Basic respect is where communication starts, and without communication, there is no learning, cohesion or progress.  When your group is diverse, having a common way to show respect becomes your foundation.

It’s especially important to show basic respect before you lean forward to make your point.  I’m not talking about the tortured, robotic paraphrasing of yore:  “What I think I hear you you saying is…” Gah!  I’m talking about conversational paraphrasing, the kind actual humans use:  “Nancy suggests we use kryptonite to slow Superman down (Look at Nancy to further acknowledge her and to see whether you got that right).    Then you are free to add, “I think that’s a good start and I want to go even farther, ” or, “I see it differently.”

The Respect Icebreaker

This is one you can use over and over, as a basic respect drill.  It’s simple:

  1. One person – person A – makes a statement – it can be innocuous or controversial.  I recommend starting with innocuous.
  2. The person next to them – Person B – paraphrases what they heard.
  3. Person A gives an enthusiastic thumbs-up if Person B got it right and shakes their head sadly if they missed all or part of it.
  4. Move on to the next two people in the circle and repeat steps 1-3 if person B was successful.  If Person B wasn’t successful, Person A reads or speaks their statement again.

Ways to keep this fresh:

  • Time it and make it competitive – maximum understanding in minimum time.
  • Shift from content to connection and empathy – maximum connection in minimum time.
  • Have the group rate the paraphrase rather than just the person who reads the statement.
  • Divide into teams and where two persons from opposing teams compete to paraphrase quickest or best (content and connection).  Have judges that give scores.
  • Use more controversial or difficult phrases – especially those that you actually hear from clients, customers or co-workers.
  • Reflect back the emotion as well as the content in the paraphrase (“you sound very convinced you are right.”  “You seem upset”  “I feel frustrated when I listen to you.  Are you frustrated?”

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