By Samantha Pak
Northwest Asian Weekly
In her community-building work, Julie Pham has seen her share of friction between people.
One situation that sticks out in the Seattle-area resident’s mind is when she was working with an engineer and labor organizer. The engineer was asking the organizer a lot of questions, which made the latter feel disrespected. In reality, Pham said they just weren’t communicating.
Miscommunication can be caused by differences ranging from cultural to functional—people in different job roles and industries have different work and communication styles. It was situations like the one between the engineer and organizer that led Pham to write “7 Forms of Respect: A Guide to Transforming your Communication and Relationships at Work,” which will be available in April. The book focuses on how people can “articulate how [they] want to receive respect and determine how others want to be shown respect,” according to its website.
While researching for her book, Pham held focus groups asking people how they wanted to be treated at work. A term that was used often was “respect.” As she began asking what respect looked like, she expanded her research. In the end, Pham and her team talked to about 400 people through workshops and interviews.
Most people were from the Seattle area and covered a range of cultures and work industries. It wasn’t all straightforward research either—some of the book’s content is based on Pham’s observations as well.
Stories behind the ‘‘why’
While “7 Forms of Respect” can help people gain self awareness to learn the types of respect that are important to them, as well as what’s important to their colleagues, Pham said that’s just surface level. The real point of her book is to start conversations. Why does someone prioritize one type of respect over another? What are the stories behind those reasons? People might assume someone has good intentions, but Pham said they rarely ask what those intentions are.
“A lot of times, people don’t ask questions,” she said, adding that she often saw this in her community-building work.
For example, Pham said, someone might view receiving clear and detailed instructions as micromanaging, but for the person giving instructions, it could be that they grew up translating for their parents and always had to be clear and detailed. Learning their stories makes it easier to understand another person’s intentions—stories are also easier to remember.
Even rubber bands break
In addition, Pham said her book can help people recognize if a company’s culture is the right fit. A company that values candor and unsolicited feedback would not be the best place for someone who does not like this. They would be constantly “flexing” or “code switching” to adjust. Being flexible like a rubber band and able to adapt may be helpful in some situations, but it’s not sustainable.
“Rubber bands break if we stretch too much,” Pham said, adding that if you’re constantly trying to adapt to your workplace, “you’re going to feel exhausted all the time.”
She stressed that a bad culture fit doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with a company. It’s just not right for the individual.
This being said, Pham’s book can’t help a toxic workplace. She said she can’t help people who believe that other people are the problem and that they themselves don’t need to learn anything new.
The support of her community
Pham’s name may be on the book, but it was made possible by her community.
She self-published “7 Forms of Respect” and raised the funds through a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo. Her goal was $10,500, which she reached in 18 hours. In the end, she raised more than $23,000 with more than 300 backers—for a non-fiction, professional development book, she noted.
“This is my community and they believed in my book,” she said, adding that she feels like the community gave her her advance.
To thank them, Pham uses some of the names of her Indiegogo supporters in the book as a fun surprise. She uses their names in workplace scenario examples to illustrate her points.
Pham admits to some previously held internal elitist views, thinking a self-published book is not a “real book.” But that changed after she self published her first book, “Their War: The Perspectives of the South Vietnamese Military in the Words of Veteran-Émigrés” and her father held a reception in her and the book’s honor.
About 300 people attended the event and 75 % were Vietnamese. Pham saw the impact that book had and that led to her rethinking traditional publishing, who gets to decide what is commercially viable and how she doesn’t need to be validated by a traditional publisher. She credits her ability to adapt and go the untraditional route to her parents.
“As an immigrant, I saw my parents make their own way,” Pham said.
For more information about “7 Forms of Respect,” visit formsofrespect.com/book.
Samantha can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.