Tisha’s Insights

Do You Deserve Respect?

February 14, 2024 Tisha Schuller
Group of diverse people standing together with concerned looks on their faces.

There’s nothing more humiliating at a business networking event than seeing your conversational partner look past you for someone more important they could be talking with. Each of us expects to be valued and respected for who we are—and we all get super upset when we aren’t.

You must recognize this basic human need for respect in order to successfully execute “The Hidden Law of Energy Leadership,” which I laid out last month. To recap: Leading today isn’t persuasion. It’s understanding. You don’t lead anyone by browbeating them with your superior arguments. You lead them by understanding their position and finding your common ground. And that starts with respecting and being curious about them, regardless of how much they disagree with you.

As I’ve been covering, civic energy leadership requires two essential components: (1) painting a compelling and inclusive vision of the energy future and (2) filling in that vision with the essential details of how to get it done on the ground. Today I look at how energy leaders make respect and curiosity core values in their engagement with stakeholders, particularly skeptical ones.

Both of these things are true:

  • You don’t have to share someone’s worldview to be curious about it and understand it.
  • You don’t have to share someone else’s worldview to respect their conviction about it.

I run into this on both sides of the political spectrum in my own neighborhood. When one neighbor puts an anti-oil-and-gas article in my mailbox, I strike up a conversation: What moved you about that article? Where would you go to learn more? Another sends me “Drill, baby, drill” memes and assumes we support the same candidate for president. So I spend time asking them: What issues are most likely to influence your vote? If you couldn’t vote for that person, who would be your second choice? I lead with curiosity and respect—and acts that I might have otherwise chosen to perceive as hostile become conversation starters.

Make respect and curiosity cornerstones of your leadership

Respecting others is so much more than a core value: It’s a choice we make every day—especially with those we find challenging! I recommend four ways to operationalize curiosity and respect in your interactions with those for whom respect may not be your default setting.

1. Assume good intentions. It’s fashionable in some circles to imagine environmental activists as rent-seeking opportunists, using extremist rhetoric to gin up donations to their organizations. In my experience, everyone thinks they wake up in the morning on the side of right. There are all kinds of misaligned incentives and egos to blame, but I have found it a much more productive starting place to give every person the benefit of the doubt. Assume they believe they are making the world better and are sincere in those efforts. When you stop imposing your own narratives on others, they become much more interesting—and your curiosity will bring you much closer to what they’re actually all about.

2. Explore their worldview. What motivates their approach? What does the world look like from their perspective? Where do they get their information? How tightly do they hold on to their ideas? A stance of curiosity about how someone else forms their mental model builds connection with them, provides you with novel information, and establishes a foundation for mutual trust.

3. Treat respect as an end in itself. Don’t dive deep into someone else’s viewpoint thinking it’s going to help you more effectively challenge that viewpoint. Respect isn’t a better means to educate your stakeholders on why their view on the energy future is wrong. It’s an end in itself, a cornerstone of leadership and the best way to show every stakeholder you’re not their enemy but their partner in aspiring for a better future.

4. Practice makes perfect. You will occasionally find yourself deeply challenged in trying to prioritize respect in your engagements. What to do when you are overwhelmed by defensiveness, anger, or despair? Imagine what respect would look like. I often need to remind myself of the advice I give and challenge myself to implement it. I also need to remind myself that every human is inherently deserving of basic decency, and that includes respect. I have found that intent, effort, and practice go a long way in building a habit of respectful engagement.

We discussed respect and so much more in my conversation with the Energy for Growth Hub’s podcast. Check it out here.

Want more practical context and tips for energy leadership? I am taking on limited speaking engagements beginning in May. Reach out to learn more. Was this email forwarded to you? Sign up here.




Have Tisha’s insights delivered right to your inbox

tisha schuller
logo white

Both of These Things Are True

By Tisha Schuller