Step 1: Respect It. Step 2: Demolish It (If Necessary)

Isn’t everything in life a balancing act?

One balancing act that’s come alive in my travels is that of respecting an idea versus advocating for its demolition.

All ideas should be respected. If someone puts forth an idea, it should be respected on the grounds that a thinking human being produced it. Even if I totally disagree with someone’s point of view, I try to preface my response with, "I think I understand your idea and I appreciate you articulating it to me and can see how it could be compelling."

I would argue that most negotiations (in life or business) leave the rational world (and enter an entrenched game of ego and emotion) when one side feels like the other side doesn’t appreciate or respect the other side’s POV.

3M has famously integrated this notion of respecting all ideas into their corporate culture. During group brainstorming meetings, any idea put on the table has to be followed by a supportive remark. If I say, "We should open a store in Canada" the next person to speak must in some way positively support this idea, so that no new creative burst dies on the first try. I think these next-person-to-speak supporters are called "idea angels".

Not all ideas deserve to live — an idea angel just breathes on flickering embers, it doesn’t guarantee a fire. I’ve said before that some ideas are better than others and bad ideas deserve to be demolished.

I’m in Asia right now…Some foreign governments and foreign cultures subscribe to ideas I disagree with. The best thing a citizen diplomat from another country can do is respect the idea and express an appreciation for its resonance in the foreign culture. Sometimes, that’s all you can/should do. Other times, and hopefully most of the time, you can advocate for your conception of a better idea. But this is step two.

I want to emphasize that you can and should engage in active debate when traveling. I don’t believe in the idea that "if your mouth is open your ears are closed." For me, when I’m exploring different cultures, I want to understand and respect how it operates, and then present the way my culture operates, and really dig in to explore the differences. I’ve found that foreigners like hearing and debating different approaches to government, markets, cuisine, and so forth, assuming it’s done in a respectful and not condescending manner.

It’s amazing how far R-E-S-P-E-C-T will get you! (Yes, that’s your cue to start singing the song…)

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