Respectful relationships lead to more effective collaboration, while creativity leads to the innovations that give competitive edge. But business leaders may not be aware of the dynamic link between these two qualities.
Through a series of four studies researchers from the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and Tel Aviv University and have shown, that respectful engagement (RE) among colleagues leads to better relational informational processing (or RIP), which in turn leads to more creative individual and team behaviours.
"Organizations are fertile terrains for interrelating that can either build or destroy human accomplishments including creativity," says Michigan Ross Professor Jane Dutton. "Across our studies, we demonstrate that respectful engagement is more than simply a nice way to interact, but is a catalyst and cultivator of creativity."
The elements of respect, appreciation and gratitude in respectful engagement reinforce the connection among people and make collaborative or team efforts more resilient and adaptive. With RE as a foundation people are less reactive or negative in the face of setbacks and will through open conversations develop solutions to problems.
RIP, epitomized by reflective conversations about work, has in turn an important impact on the creativity of the group. The reason is two-fold. First, through open conversations, people have an opportunity to access and build on each other’s unique perspectives and expertise. Pooled together, these unique perspectives and expertise can inspire and generate novel ideas about a company’s products, services and processes.
The second reason RIP enhances creativity is through mindfulness, that is, a much greater awareness of the present, of what’s currently happening in one’s environment. By being mindful, people are exposed to more ideas. They have more opportunities to see new perspectives, or to combine different perspectives into novel ideas.
The researchers measured the influence of RE on RIP and through RIP on creativity above and beyond the influence of factors such trust, psychological safety, task conflict and leader-subordinate mutual respect. In conclusion, analyses of the survey results unequivocally demonstrated that respectful engagement, which creates a positive work environment in which people respect each other, enables reflective conversations (RIP) among people, which in turn leads to greater creativity.
In theory, respectful engagement might seem attainable with some effort and good will, but under the pressure of the real world, RE takes hard work. Companies must not only create a culture of respect and trust, but also encourage and enable active engagement among employees and teams. Creative ideas will emerge from these open, exploratory conversations. Taking advantage of the forces described in this study thus requires a two-pronged effort from organizations:
- Ensure that organizational members are attentive to and recognize the value of others.
- Enable wide-ranging, open conversations that encourage honest reflection on the present and explore different perspectives for new ideas.
Respect can be the ‘engine for new ideas’ in an organization that is vigilant and proactive in maintaining positive, active relationships among all employees and leaders.
"In a more demanding work world the cultivation of respect is challenging," says Dutton. "These studies remind us of the potential yield from making respectful engagement an interpersonal goal and a strategic imperative."
Read the study: Respect as an Engine for New Ideas