Principle 1:
That we treat each other with respect

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When I talk about respect in relation to this Principle I don’t mean the fear based subservience that can occur towards people with power or money or status, I mean the personal, open hearted consideration of another human as being of equal worth to ourselves, whoever they are, whatever they have done – and this also means not considering them to be ‘better’ than us – that’s back to the other form of 'respect' again. 

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, 

Or walk with Kings - nor lose the common touch,

If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,

If all men count with you, but none too much 

If - Rudyard Kipling

This is a particularly challenging Principle when we are in dispute with someone as we may actively dislike or even ‘hate’ them. But if we need to have some form of communication with them then it is important that we treat that person with respect even if our feelings towards them are anything but respectful. 

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Some may worry that this is being ‘two faced’ as if, when we don’t like someone because of a conflict we have with them, the only way we should treat them is disrespectfully. 

I guess this depends on whether we want to resolve the conflict with them or escalate it. 

This is not about denying our feelings. We can tell someone how we feel about them or something they’ve done without being abusive. 

The point is, do we want to make the most effective response to a conflict? 

Do we want to act in ways that are least harmful and least wearing on ourselves, as well as most effective in moving towards resolution? 

Treating someone disrespectfully leads to an escalating series of destructive responses in all their various forms. 

Unfortunately, the approach taken by many of our Governments is to speak ill of leaders of other countries. Consider the criticisms and 'demonisations' that occur between USA and Iran, UK and Zimbabwe, the frequent demonising of China as I write this. (August 2008). 

This is the kind of action I'm referring to with this Principle. It is difficult to see how such words can ever be constructive in seeking resolution of the differences between representatives of our countries. They are based on the competition approach  to conflict which never resolves any situation. It only escalates it. There is an assumption of moral 'rightness' when this is always subjective. 

Recommended Reading for people interested in listening and mindful communication: A book which reveals the power, the beauty and the reverence for others that exists within the simple act of listening. If you want to understand what is meant by mindful communication - read this!

Treating others with respect is in our own interest and long-term benefit

But this approach is practiced by most of us in relation to our disputes with others. We're not doing anything that most people wouldn't do - but can we acknowledge it and start to consciously try to communicate and act towards the other person more respectfully - because it is in both of our interests to do so, and quite possibly in the interests of others affected by our dispute. 

For example, in a divorce, it may be that there is a lot of ill feeling between partners over the events of their marriage break up, but nevertheless, for the benefit of any children or for other purposes there may be a need to continue communication with each other. 

In such situations Effective Communication is hindered if either party acts in a way which is not treating the other with respect. 

This is not to deny that there may be such strong feelings associated with a situation or a person that it is almost impossible to want to even try to treat someone with respect. 

It may be that a spouse feels betrayed by the other’s infidelity that led to the break up and eventual divorce. 

But if the welfare of children from the marriage is to be most effectively provided for there is a need to try to find a way of treating the spouse with respect when communicating about their welfare, even if outside of this issue it proves difficult. 

Not practising this Principle of Effective Communication can mean that destructive responses permeate all dealings regarding the divorce and the children suffer the consequences where this may be avoidable and dealt with more constructively. 

Treating someone with respect for purposes of communication over an important issue does not mean that we have to like them. But it does mean that the circumstances that caused our ‘falling out’ are unlikely to get worse. 

I cannot teach you violence, as I do not myself believe in it. I can only teach you not to bow your heads before any one even at the cost of your life. - Mahatma Ghandi

Alan Sharland, author of this website, is Director of CAOS Conflict Management which has a blog CAOTICA - click the banner below to visit the blog and sign up for its newsletter:

CAOTICA the CAOS Conflict Management Blog


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Are you UK based and are looking for mediation, conflict coaching or training in communication and/or conflict resolution related issues?

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Guide to Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution

Buy The Guide to The Principles of Effective Communication and Conflict Resolution for just $7, and learn the insights gained from the practices of Mediation and Conflict Coaching that can help you communicate better and create new ways to resolve your conflict.

There's also a FREE COPY of the e-booklet Listening, Summarising and Questioning - The Simple, Effective Skills of Conflict Resolution with every purchase of The Guide.

Some recent feedback on The Guide:

Dear Alan - I recently purchased The Guide which I think is excellent and highly useful in a personal and professional context. I am a teacher with the Skills Institute in Tasmania and I'm about to roll out communication training in Tasmania's only youth detention facility. I have an enormous amount of material regarding communication but none as succinct or as user-friendly as what you have developed.

Clare Thompson
Teacher-Human Services Skills Institute - Tasmania


I work at a homeless shelter/rehab and I teach a class on community living. This is a new field of employment for me. I can use this site for ideas for the class I teach.

This is going to be very interesting and educational for myself as well as others.

This site is a big help. Thank you!

TM, Kentucky, USA

Working with 'Bullying'? - This may interest you….

Hello Alan Sharland

Thank you SO MUCH for this article! It brings forward some very key points about the phenomenon of "bullying" which I have been pondering for some while. Among others, asking to what extent can/should the person on the receiving end of the bullying/perceived to be bullying take responsibility/initiate steps to shift the paradigm? How can this happen without implying that the recipient is somehow responsible for the bullying behavior?

Laurie McCann, Campus Ombuds, Univ Calif Santa Cruz

Hi Alan,

You have put together an awesome web site with lots of fantastic materials.

John Ford - Managing Editor

Hi Alan, ..... your site is great. I've been reading all the material and have to say its already made a difference in how I sort out/manage some of life's little problems. JH - West London, UK


This article is the BEST article on questioning I have ever read and I'd like, with your permission, to pass it along to our mediators.Your examples of both genuinely open and 'not-so-open' with explanations are very insightful.

ML - Canadian Govt. Agency


Hi Alan

I have just spent hours on your site as I truly love the eclectic mix of reference material that you kindly share. From Gibran to Byron Katie and the fab youtube clips! I am making my free hugs poster as of now :-)

Anni with joyful smile :-)
Preston, UK