The Michigan Ross website states “We believe that scientific, data-driven analysis must be the basis for decision making and leadership.” This is an important perspective from which to view two much discussed topics: ‘employee engagement’ and ‘creativity in organizations’.
New research from Michigan Ross Professor Jane Dutton focuses on the importance of ‘respectful engagement’ in facilitating creativity. Conducted with co-authors Abraham Carmeli of Tel Aviv University and Ross PhD student Ashley Hardin, her four studies examine how respectfully engaging with other members in the organization can enhance individual and team creativity and indicates that workers who are treated with respect reach higher levels of creativity. Respect as an engine for new ideas.
"Organizations are fertile terrains for interrelating that can either build or destroy human accomplishments including creativity," Dutton says. "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."
Respectful engagement is defined by behaviours such as recognizing another person, understanding and appreciating them, listening, attending to needs, emphasizing another's good qualities, and making requests not demands. This sounds like something we should be doing anyway, but in our high pressure workplaces creating a culture of respect is a challenge. So discovering the influence of respect on creativity provides valuable motivation. As Dutton says "These studies remind us of the potential yield from making respectful engagement an interpersonal goal and a strategic imperative."
Respectful engagement fosters acceptance and openness, motivates interaction and equips individuals for engaging with one another. This sense of acceptance opens people up to diverse points of view and makes them more attentive when engaging with people who might be different from themselves. When people engage respectfully there is an enhanced motivation to be with and contribute to one another. Respectful engagement satisfies conditions for human growth and development and encourages mutual empowerment, allowing people to authentically connect to others in ways that allow for greater mutual awareness, acceptance and responsiveness.
The researchers found that respectful engagement facilitated what they describe as ‘relational information processing’ and this process in turn fostered creative behaviours at both the individual and team levels. Relational information processing is the mechanism whereby organizational members use conversation to reflect upon their goals and work tasks and practices with colleagues. The researchers focused on relational information processing, instead of self-reflection, because it opened up opportunities to develop theory about how this mechanism may build core capabilities key for continuous work improvement, such as knowledge creation, coordinating and capacity to manage conflicting demands.
Since most people spend the majority of their adult life in organizations and relationships are central to the meaning of being, relationships in the workplace are of paramount importance. This research reveals the connection between a culture of everyday respect at work and the increased capacity for creativity and the development of new ideas. It also provides valuable insights to the relational roots to innovation in organizations.
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Read the full research study 'Respect as an Engine for New Ideas'