Why the Harvey Weinstein scandal is a symptom of a more fundamental problem

We don’t have enough respect for other people.

I am old enough and world-wise enough not to be shocked when a number of women in my network have shared their experiences of being harassed, abused or worse because of their gender over the years. But the sheer scale of #MeToo posts just from my own network was quite remarkable as well as very saddening.

I have never understood how people can treat others like objects for their own use. Whether it’s because of gender, race, seniority (whether based on age, experience or position) or any other reason, not considering someone else’s feelings is disrespectful.

At a networking dinner last night talk on our table turned, inevitably, to the Weinstein scandal and #MeToo threads. Initially a couple of the people dismissed the follow up allegations as the action of attention-seekers, until I explained that these were everyday women (and, in some cases, men) sharing their stories with no clear benefit to them to do so other than the knowledge that they are not alone and the hope that their story will help others.

Suddenly, one of the women in our group started to list all of the different ways in which she has been discriminated against, harassed and abused throughout her career. Right the way through to last week when someone put his hand on her backside at a networking event…and she turned around to him in front of the whole room and told him “not to be Harvey Weinstein”!

These stories are at the very high end of the lack of respect scale, in fact you can’t get much more disrespectful. Please don’t think that I am reducing what Harvey Weinstein and others have done to something as simple as just a lack of respect, they go much lower than that. I also want to stress that I don’t want to take the #MeToo campaign and generalise it, deflecting attention from a very important campaign about what is happening mainly to women and why we should be aware of it and speak out.

But if we all respected each other more would such instances happen as frequently?

Think of all of the interactions you have had with different people over the last week. How many times have you disrespected someone without even being aware of it? Maybe you have been so involved in conversation that you have taken a waiter for granted when they have brought your food or the bill and not acknowledged or thanked them. Perhaps you voiced your opinion on social media in a way that denigrated the person whose views you disagreed with. Have you been to a networking event and interrupted a conversation when someone was mid-flow or passed up a conversation with someone because you felt they weren’t relevant to you? Or just glanced at your phone while someone was talking to you?

All of these seemingly harmless gestures and actions betray a lack of basic respect. Some are so small that they are barely noticeable and others don’t get offended or hurt by them. Let’s be honest, we’re all guilty of one or more of the actions above at some point.

Is it possible that they mount up and provide the base for more egregious actions? If a waiter is not considered worthy of your courtesy, where do you draw the line and how do you stop it?

It’s easy to lose sight of how we make people feel. I received a message on LinkedIn this week from a young lady who was working backstage at a recent event at which I spoke in Stockholm. .

She is a student at a sales academy for 18-24 year olds in Stockholm run by my good friend Mikael Arndt. The students at the academy crewed the event at which I spoke at Oscar’s Theatre and the following day I went in to meet with them and answer their questions. They are an incredibly bright, driven and enthusiastic group and a pleasure to engage with.

After connecting with me on LinkedIn after the session, this young lady said this to me:

“Your answers made me realise the being oneself is always best but, more importantly, it’s about how you make the other person feel. Backstage I spoke with a lot of speakers. You were one of the few who stood out and reflecting back, I think it’s because you took a genuine interest in me and my questions. That’s something I’ll bring with me.”

I completely understand why some speakers didn’t really pay much attention to her. Speaking in front of 1,000 people at a city landmark is very nerve wracking, even for an experienced speaker. Before I went on to speak I was going through my opening in my mind several times, just to make sure I would be straight into flow. Many of the students interrupted me to say something and I always acknowledged them but that was very disruptive to my focus.

They, however, weren’t aware of that and it was so important that I still treated them with respect. She went on to say,

“Even though I have a hard time connecting with people because I don’t like the idea of being vulnerable, I guess I can always affect how people feel about meeting me, being seen and heard. And to be genuinely curious.”

These are small steps and skills that I teach as a matter of course when talking about networking. Listen to people; let them feel that they are the only person in the room; show genuine curiosity; don’t invade their personal space.

They are much more than networking techniques though. They are a simple matter of respect and if we can naturally respect each other irrespective of our differences, maybe the stories we see, hear about and share will be far more positive.