(This is an expanded version of an article in the latest edition of Business2Business, a business magazine for Banbury, Buckingham and Bicester).

In the Olympics the value of respect is on show everywhere: respect between competitors and between national teams. Respect is one of the seven values established by the International Olympic Committee. Without mutual respect the Olympics couldn’t function. So what can we in business learn from this? Is it time to show more respect for each other, our customers, our partners, our shareholders?

I discussed these issues with a former colleague, Banbury-based Bernard Goodchild, an experienced business advisor for more than fifteen years. An ex-banker and father, he knows the world of business inside and out, and understands its human as well as its financial side.

Goodchild believes that respect really has four key components: integrity, professionalism, behaviour and presentation. In the business world this means, above all, looking professional and acting so. “Take the trouble when you meet someone to be smart and well dressed. That can speaks volumes about how you treat business matters.” If you look the part, you will play the part, he says.

However, behind the surface there has to be real integrity and respect for the other person. He argues that we should take time to reflect before and after we meet someone. “Reflection is a big issue for me,” he says. “Ask yourself, what is important to the person you are meeting? Make sure that you listen, accept them, even though you may not completely agree with them, don’t be too keen to plant your own point of view on them. And afterwards, ask yourself, how well did I do?” In other words, he is saying be client-centred, have an open mind and put aside any preconceptions and prejudices that you might have.

A key theme of his is, respect the other person’s experience. He explains: “Don’t be antagonistic, don’t be argumentative. It won’t help you. I just wish young people could see that sometimes.”  He adds: “Acknowledge other people for who they are. You’ll achieve much more if you do that. It is so simple, yet it is something that we forget sometimes.”

Respecting your customers and respecting your competitors is also important. Goodchild agrees that when you start to lose respect for your customers, when you take them for granted, you begin to lose your way. “I’ve seen it,” he says. “A company can become complacent over a period of time. It’s quite common. You have to keep coming up with new ideas, with good reasons why your customers should stay with you. If not, they will drift away.”  It is a lesson that many companies are learning during this recession.

It is also worth respecting your competitors. Don’t underestimate them which some businesses tend do. Don’t be arrogant, assuming that no one can touch you. Moreover, don’t bad-mouth your competitors. You may need to work with them one day. I know of many businesses that work with a competitor from time to time for the simple reason that it suits both parties. So respect your competition just as the Olympic sportspeople do.



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