Floris Huetink

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Autonomy and respect

How two seemingly unrelated experiences revealed two personal values.

At work

Where I work, one of my responsibilities is to periodically determine a strategic focus for the department I lead.

Shortly after communicating a new strategy, our company owner and founder came to me. He asked me to change part of the strategy into something else. I refused, not seeing the added value. He pressed, seeing the requested change as absolutely necessary. I got angry and frustrated, he got angry and frustrated.

After cooling down somewhat, we came to a point of agreeing to disagree.

At home

Coming home that night, I greeted my wife and kids and noticed toys lying around all over the living room. So I said to my kids (2 and 4 years old):

“Clean up the room, will you? Dinner is almost ready and it’s a mess here.”

No response. I tried a different approach:

“Listen, dinner is almost ready. Mom and I are going to have dinner, and you will only get dinner after all of these toys have been moved into the boxes where they belong.”

Well, that did trigger a response. Kicking, screaming, shouting, protesting, all of it. But my wife and I persisted, and in the end, the toys were stowed away and our kids were having dinner at the table.

My wife and I weren’t happy with this, though. Effective as it may be sometimes, as a rule, we try not to threaten with one thing to get another thing done from our kids.

Autonomy and respect

Looking back at these situations, two words keep coming backing into my mind: autonomy and respect.

At work, I assumed autonomy on strategic decisions for the department I was responsible for. And my boss assumed autonomy on strategic decisions for the company he owned. We clashed when we both demanded respect for our ideas and forgot to show respect for each other’s point of view.

At home, I wanted autonomy on how our home was organized. And I demanded respect from my kids by refusing them dinner until they did what I wanted. By doing this, however, I forgot to respect the autonomy my kids might want in when and how to clean up the room.

In both situations I wanted autonomy. On sensing I could not have it, I tried to demand it by disrespecting someone else’s autonomy. At work, this did not help me. At home, it did, but I felt bad.

How to avoid this pattern of demand and disrespect? To truly receive respect for my own autonomy, I need to truly respect other people’s autonomy. This means taking an effort to understand other people’s needs, and to communicate my own needs and values as respectfully as I can.

So: autonomy and respect, simple as that. Only thing left is to master the art of not demanding it :)

March 2, 2017