Practicing the Skills of Deference

Sharing Information

When practicing deference in the positive sense, I yield, acquiesce, let you go first, act in respect. In the less positive or negative sense, I submit, am complaisant, or am docile. In a neutral sense, I say “Hello” or nod to acknowledge another’s presence.

Maintaining Respect

In the family, children defer to the wishes of their parents, and parents try to teach their children to cooperate and re-enforce the pause when it’s appropriate. Parents hope their children are civil, kind, and with help and guidance from them, socially practiced. Children are taught how to address adults, including grandparents and other relatives.

In the workplace, when behaviors become too relaxed, persons can become deferent to others who, for the sake of keeping the peace, unintentionally defer to bad behavior. A laid-back environment can be positive, to a degree. But when people are not practicing deference by employing good manners and courtesies and fail to maintain respect for workplace rules, a company risks loss of productivity, and leadership roles can blur.

In choosing to be the person you want to be, hard choices present themselves. Many a person has wished that they would have deferred to taking the high road rather than one of acting on a momentary emotion.

Showing Deference

Self-command requires practiced knowledge of deference. Knowing how to show up recognizably respectful is the skill set that includes showing deference in social relationships and in the workplace.

Examples in showing proper deference:

  • Avoid careless comments.
  • Address others as they wish to be addressed. Defer to the rules of formality first, unless invited to use first names right away.
  • Use an honorific for ranking superiors. This is the case, even though a ranking person addresses you with your first name.
  • Other employees, who have titles and positions above you, should be addressed more formally unless you are invited to do otherwise.
  • Go out of your way to make common courtesies a habit. If you get to a door first, hold it open for others who are behind you.
  • When you are about to be introduced and you are sitting, stand up.
  • At the table, if a guest needs help with a seat, ask to help pull the chair back and let the person enter. 
  • Wait for all at your table to be invited to be seated before sitting down.  

Deference to authority is a common characteristic and necessity in society. The right time to speak up, even push back, varies from society to society and situation to situation.

In both personal relationships and business life, people need a polite avenue to provide different perspectives, and even challenge the status quo. Discovering the insiders’ knowledge of when and how to defer is part of the new employee’s learning curve and an ever-present challenge in personal relationships.

“Deference is the most complicated, the most indirect, and the most elegant of all compliments.”
~ William Shenstone

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