Funk and Wagnalls’ 1974 edition of the Standard Desk Dictionary defines ‘deference’ as “submission or yielding to the will, opinions, etc. of another or respectful regard“. I have added the italics and I am grateful that at my mother’s house there is always a dictionary handy.  That is not surprising when you know that crosswords are a daily ritual here and scrabble is the game of choice.

Okay, so what about deference and “respectful regard” is dangerous?  I have been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s latest volume – Outliers – and I am intrigued by his discussion of mitigated speech and Power Distance Index from Hofestede’s dimensions.  It is a fascinating discussion that brings home in spades the significance of the GHOST protocol in Conversation.

In GHOST we use Gentle rather than respectful because we knew from experience that out of respect people hold things back.  We also understood that some cultural groups were more ‘respectful’ than others and that was creating imbalances in the mediated conversations we saw.  Hofestede’s work – Culture’s Consequences – explains what we saw and affirms our choice of ‘Gentle’ rather than ‘respectful’ as part of our protocol for conversation in a way that many will understand.

Deference, not saying what is on your mind out of respectful regard, is dangerous.  It is in fact life threatening in the cockpit situations described by Gladwell.  I have encountered many conversations that I know the truth was being massaged or mitigated in order to save face.  It is what we do and we are more likely to do it if we are from certain cultures or certain families.

One of the questions that Hofestede asked in his research was: “How frequently, in your experience, does the following problem occur: employees being afraid to express disagreement with their manager?”  From my experience, when the answer is frequently, “There be Dragons”.  When employees are afraid to disagree then an unhealthy, even toxic, environment leads to lost productivity and increased costs.

I want to relate this too to a radio broadcast I heard on CBC Edmonton yesterday.  The report was about theft.  Shop lifting in the US was reported to have cost retailers $16 billion.  Theft in the work place was pegged at $600 billion. HMMM.  Behavioural scientists were reporting that compensation was not a factor when it came to who might steal from their employer.  It was more a matter or how connected people felt, how valued they felt in the organization and how loyal they were to the organization all of which depended on each other.

So it seems that PDI – Power Distance Index- which tells you how much deference is paid to people in the hierarchy and therefore can predict how much deference is occurring may be related to how much the organization is losing through theft and sabotage.  And all because people are speaking and listening to each other without a FRAME.

Learning how to speak and listen Gently and Honestly; learning how to be Open to the others point of view even if you are in a leadership position and allowing that point of view to influence yours; learning how to use specific examples and language for clarity and talking, saying what is on your mind is vital.  It may have saved lives in the scenarios that Gladwell describes between pilot and co-pilot and saved millions of dollars spent on replacing those items that were pilfered in organizations across the US.