June 24, 2024

what you leave behind

ivy trailing down the side of a brick building
photo caption: ivy trails down the side of a brick building. i think ivy usually climbs up buildings, but i wasn’t upside-down when i took this. i’m pretty sure.

As I get older, I’ve become more conscientious about the footprints that I leave behind. For example: I started letting my hair grow longer recently and needed a new comb. I bought one made from bamboo instead of plastic. Every time I handle something made of plastic, I fret about the centuries it may outlast me on earth.

My hope is that this comb will decompose on a time scale more like other living things (including me). I started thinking about how the same is true for humans, to an extent. We each leave a footprint everywhere we go. Sometimes it’s faint; other times the impression is very deep.

What’s the energy we leave behind when we are no longer there? Whether in workplaces or in our daily interactions, we leave traces of our presence. Who will take lessons from the actions you took? Looking back over the hundreds of people you spent each workday with, how did you make them feel? When, how, and for whom did you create space for others to thrive?

I read a fascinating book by Julie Pham, PhD, titled 7 Forms of Respect. Dr. Pham proposes that people relate to each other based on the respect they expect and, in turn, give to others. See if you recognize yourself in any of the words, actions, or practices you create around you.

7 forms of respect

Procedure: rules and norms (formal and informal)
Punctuality: relating to time constraints and schedules
Information: open access to data and knowledge
Candor: frank or constructive feedback
Consideration: the wants, needs, and comforts of others
Acknowledgement: praise, affirmation, and gratitude
Attention: focused listening

What we think is an important sign of respect may not be as meaningful to someone else. For instance, you might value information sharing as a form of respect. When you send an email, you copy people who you think need to be in the loop. Another person might wonder why you’re sharing details they don’t need to know or care about. Or you might thrive on public praise, while a colleague might hate the spotlight. They could prefer a thanks away from the crowd or even none at all.

Respect can also change depending on the power dynamics between two people. A manager might insist their employees arrive to meetings on time. They might not expect punctuality from their boss in the same way. Or a person can show respect in one way but dislike receiving it in turn. Think about a manager who gives their staff constructive feedback. They might bristle or feel disrespected when their employees offer it back to them.

We can create a more supportive workplaces by learning the forms of respect that we each like to give and get. The common forms of respect across a team contribute to that group’s values. Say your team values undivided attention during meetings. You may feel put off when a newcomer checks their email or multitasks while others are talking. What if they came from an office where everyone’s so busy that they all end up working during meetings? Or what if scrolling while listening helps them focus on the person speaking? Knowing that people value different things helps temper any potential feelings of disrespect.

How can we resolve a potential misalignment of respect? Dr. Pham outlines an approach known as the CAFA method. When you speak to someone, first describe the Context of the situation. Then describe how you perceived their Action. Next, share how you Felt about what they did. Finally, Ask a question to better understand the action they took. As Dr. Pham shares in the book, the goal of this method is to bring understanding to the situation. If you can find a way to reach a different outcome, that’s simply a bonus.

changing perspectives

I thought about what I learned in this book through the lens of my past experience. I’ve made impressions, positive and negative, throughout my career. I wish I had the language to communicate my needs in clearer ways. I wish I had heard others articulate their own needs as well.

We interpret respect in different ways depending on our upbringing and past history. The ways that people receive us can change dynamics forever; they can ripple like a wake in the water. Even after you leave a place, people may still remember how you did—and didn’t—show them the respect that matters to them.

photo of josh martinez

my name is josh martinez. i have always loved trying to understand systems, and the systems that built those systems. i spend a lot of time thinking about how to get there from here.

i own and operate a consulting practice, Future Emergent.

say hello: josh[at]bethefuture.space