The business world has an unfortunate habit of confusing hierarchy with formality. In other words we teach people that the higher the status of someone within an organisation the more formal our language should be in dealing with them. Yes, of course there will be differing levels of respect depending on who you’re talking to – whether the CEO or the colleague you share a cubicle with – but formality leads to rigid communication channels that are inflexible and inefficient.
For example, if I disagree with a colleague, I’m likely to let him know directly and unambiguously. But the higher up the chain you go, the less people ‘give it to you straight’; fine if you have a fragile ego, but not useful if you want honest feedback about yourself and the business in general. Also, as employees feel they must communicate formally with superiors, leaders feel compelled to talk back to them in the same way – which leads to the scourge of homogenised and bland internal communication.
Leaders should encourage people to express their disagreement the same way regardless of the level at which that disagreement is occurring. That is, not through arguing, but by registering their protest through sensible discussion. This should happen at all levels of the organisation – which, of course, is best achieved by starting at the top. That means we should all simply talk to people as we would want to be spoken to – which for a true ‘leader’ should be in an open, honest and respectful manner.