How can I respect someone who doesn’t respect me? How can I be respectful toward someone who is being aggressive or rude toward me? These are common questions many of us ask when we are faced with the challenge of interacting with people who are not following the Golden Rule. Whether you are 45 or 16, it can be difficult to show someone respect when the other person is doing anything but (whether that be your parent, your child, a supervisor, or opposing counsel).
Often times we feel as if we need to receive before we can give. This is true of commodities. I can give my friend an orange only after I have received an orange (from the store, a tree, another fruit-giving friend). Money is another good example, and probably more applicable than oranges to most people. I can’t give my kids an allowance if I have not first received money from my employer. It just doesn’t work like that.
We get into trouble when we view respect as if it were a commodity. Obviously it is preferred if we always receive respect prior to giving respect. Who wouldn’t want that? Yet, the true sign of someone who exudes respect is one who can act in a way that is true to that quality in spite of how others behave. Respect is a character quality. If you use respect or respectful behavior as if they were commodities (requiring that you receive it before you can give it), you present yourself as being at the whim of anyone around you. Instead of engaging in an action, you are merely a reaction to someone else.
A true sign of strength and confidence is when a person maintains their principles in the face of resistance. If you just go with the flow, you do not stand out from others. You simply mimic others. If another attorney is using intimidation and a disrespectful tone toward you, the fear can be that “if I don’t react strongly in response then that attorney will walk all over me.” Yet, responding in kind only paints you with the same unimpressive brush stroke as the other attorney. Fight the temptation to respond in kind and instead practice showing respect regardless of how someone treats you. This shows strength and shows others that you are above their influence and control (which typically frustrates a belligerent adversary). Make respect a quality that you are known for. You won’t regret it.
Shawn Healy, PhD