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Training Service in Calgary, Alberta, 2019

When we open spaces for engagement, such as training, workshops, and restorative circles, we often ask the question 'what does respect look like to you?' In our personal introductions, we may also include what respect looks like to us.

Respect looks different to everyone, and whether you're working in a team or introducing yourself to a group, vocalizing and asserting how we need to be respected is an important step in creating equitable spaces of engagement and communication.

Below, we've shared a few observations we've collected by using this question in our client engagements and personal introductions.

Asking this question can lead to proactive conflict mitigation.

For some, respect means arriving on time, for others, it means valuing personal lives outside of the workplace. Often, a misunderstanding or ignorance of what respect looks like to different people is a cause of conflict or tensions.

Creating space in a team or in your introduction to make clear how you need to be respected, and regularly revisiting the subject, is one way to mitigate conflict proactively.

This question often causes people to reflect on their privilege.

For example, we often hear from White and White-passing participants, "I don't know how to answer this question because I find I'm most often respected by default in the spaces I'm in." This kind of transparency is important to acknowledge and say, and causes people to begin situating their power and privilege early in an engagement.

People who are not accustomed to being respected by default will often be able to easily respond to this question, or will struggle to respond because they've never critically reflected on what spaces that actually respected them could look like. It's important for these people to articulate and imagine different realities for themselves.

Western professionalism does not often create space for discussions of personal- and often culturally informed- feelings, needs, and boundaries.

By asking people to define respect for themselves, they are given the power in asserting how they need to be treated by others. They are provided the opportunity to define respect in alignment with cultural and traditional ways of being, and/or their personal circumstances. They are also able to define boundaries for themselves, such as not replying to emails on the weekend.

We regularly encourage our clients to create space in their meetings, and even create a living document, where their teams can define respect and shape actively the organizational culture and structure.

Some examples we hear when people are defining respect for themselves:

"Respect to me means that we openly talk about the legacies of colonialism and how they inform how this organization operates. Respect means following up with these discussion with resource allocations, I don't want this labour I'm exerting to be a dead end. That's not respect to me."

"Child-friendly spaces, like having toys in the office and supportive management, demonstrate respect to me; it's an acknowledgement that I have a life outside of this work and that sometime in order for me to do my best work, I need to bring my child in."

"Respect of my time is important to me, and this looks like giving me more than one or two-day heads-up when you need something that will require more than an hour of my time."

"I'm in a place in my learning journey where I need to listen, so respect means not forcing me to speak when I don't feel ready to, and acknowledging that active listening is a valid form of engagement."

"Breaks are really important to me and my ability to engage, so honouring the set times for breaks is what respect in this space would be to me."

We want to encourage you to reflect on 'what does respect look like to you?'

  • Write it down and regularly update it.

  • Include it in some of your introductions: "And finally, respect to me in this space means..."

  • Start this conversation with your team, partner, family, and friends.

Written by
Larissa Crawford
December 3, 2020
January 14, 2021

Future Ancestors Services Inc. is an Indigenous and Black-owned and operated, youth-led professional services social enterprise that advances climate justice and systemic barrier removal with lenses of anti-racism and ancestral accountability. Learn more about us here.

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