Jul 302018 4 Responses

Four Words That Make Me Feel Respected

There are a lot of good things people can say to me.

  • “I love you.”
  • “I forgive you.”
  • “May I write you a check.”
  • “You take the last chocolate chip cookie.”

But four words make me feel respected far more than any other. “What did you mean?” are four of the most respectful words anyone could ever say to me.


We all need respect. This is driven home to me every time I write about the topic. Any article with respect in the title is not only widely read, but quickly shared. (See Here, Here, or Here) In every relationship, respect plays a vital role. When we feel respected, we are free to reveal our true selves and trust the person we are dealing with. However, when respect is missing, we begin to close off to others and become skeptical about their intentions.

Respect is most expressed in communication. When we respect someone, we listen to them. We seek their opinions, hear their words, and attempt to understand their intent. When someone isn’t respected, they are ignored. We don’t hear their voice. We don’t seek understanding. And we assume their intent.

When we do not respect someone, even if they are talking to us and we are looking them in the eye, we are not truly listening. Respect and disrespect express themselves in communication, in particular, in whether or not we truly try to hear and understand another.

A Lot of Words

I use a lot of words. Each week I use about 7,000 words when I preach a sermon (and then I repeat the same sermon to a second congregation). I publish a few thousand words on my website. I write a few thousand more words for future books. All of these words are a risk. The writer of Proverbs says “when words are many, transgression is not lacking.” By using so many words, I run the risk of being wrong, communicating incorrectly, being misunderstood, etc. I can say/write something wrong. You can misunderstand it. I could mean it for only one situation, but you could try to apply it to another. The chances for miscommunication are great.

Because communication is so hard, I need grace from others. I need them to listen. I don’t need people to just passively hear what I say or read what I write; I need them to actively attempt to move beyond the words I use in order to try to understand my intention and heart. This requires effort. They have to recognize anything which might bias their hearing. They have to ask questions to better understand my intention. They have to zero in on the exact parameters in which I’m saying my words apply. It’s not easy.

But, it’s worth it. Good communication is always worth the effort. Even if we end up disagreeing, when we do the work to communicate well, we at least know that our disagreement is based on substance and not just a failure to communicate.

4 Good Words

This is why I love the words “what did you mean?” They are born from deep respect. We don’t honestly ask this from people we disrespect. There is no need. When respect isn’t present, we just assume we know them. We write the worst story possible and then never question if we could be wrong. It’s why we are so quick to believe every meme about our political enemies. It’s why when a marriage goes sour, talking can almost be toxic. If we don’t respect someone, we don’t attempt to understand them or listen to them.

Yet when we ask, “what did you mean,” we are showing utmost respect. We are seeking to understand what a person actually intended. The question connotes humility. We recognize that we can easily mishear, misread, or misunderstand. Knowing how feeble we are, we know that others can accidentally say the very opposite of what they mean. Rather than holding them to their exact wording or our interpretation of what they said, we give them the grace to explain themselves. We respect them enough to hear them.

These are four words we need to use often. Before assuming we know what was said (and intended), giving our opinions, or making judgments, we need to ensure that we truly understand others. This can only occur as we ask for clarification. It only happens as we truly seek to hear what another person is trying to communicate.

On a near weekly basis, someone might call me or catch me at lunch and bring up something I’ve written or said. They will almost seem apologetic as they say “in that article, what did you mean?” I love it. Almost without fail, we will have a great conversation. I’ll hear their ideas and opinions. They will better understand what I was trying to communicate. While the conversation doesn’t always lead to agreement, it almost always leads to a better relationship.

If these four words mean so much when said to me, why I don’t I say them to others more often?

4 Responses to Four Words That Make Me Feel Respected
  1. […] Respect: Every post will communicate respect not just for those with whom we agree but especially wi... https://www.kevinathompson.com/biblical-approach-social-media
  2. […] Truth is the second value of our church; respect is the first. They are in that order as a reminder ... https://www.kevinathompson.com/transgender-debate

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Please enter your name, email and a comment.