Julie Pham’s 7 Forms of Respect explores new ideas of respect in the workplace


by Amanda Ong

Seattle-based writer and businesswoman Julie Pham recently published a new type of book on leadership and management, 7 Forms of Respect: A Guide to Transforming Your Communication and Relationships at Work. 7 forms of respect stems from Pham’s own experiences with relative cultural respect, growing up as a refugee and living abroad, and working in business as a woman of color, and it shows how colleagues can better practice respect in the workplace.

Pham grew up in Seattle but was born in Vietnam, and her family came to the United States when she was 2 months old, as Vietnamese boat people in 1979, part of the exodus of millions of refugees from Vietnam by boat following the Vietnam War. His parents went on to found the first independent Vietnamese-language newspaper in the Pacific Northwest, Northwest Vietnamese News. Pham attended UC Berkeley as an undergraduate to study history, then went on to earn a doctorate in history at Cambridge in the UK. She then lived in Germany, France and England.

“It’s a pretty strong part of my identity, being Vietnamese and being a Vietnamese refugee,” Pham said in an interview with the South Seattle Emerald. “And so many parts of the book are also about how we belong to multiple cultures and identities simultaneously. And having lived abroad has helped shape the way I see respect as relative.

After completing her doctorate, Pham returned to Seattle to run her family’s newspaper for three years, before becoming CEO of Curiosity-based, a consulting practice focused on stimulating curiosity in the workplace. She also continued to write occasionally for newspapers, including the emerald. But his work at CuriosityBased strongly informed 7 forms of respect.

“The book is also about practicing curiosity, and my way of thinking about practicing curiosity comes down to three things,” Pham said, explaining how curiosity and respect are linked. “[The first] is to be curious about yourself, and then the second is to be curious about others and let others be curious about you. … And then the third part is asking questions and listening with curiosity, and then with respect, we just get people thinking, where their ideas of respect are coming from.

Author and businesswoman Julie Pham (third from left) talks about her book “7 Forms of Respect” at Little Saigon Creative in July. Pham drew on her own experiences as a Vietnamese refugee in Seattle to explore cross-cultural ideas of respect in the workplace. (Photo: Hnin Johnson)

Pham was inspired to write a book because she worked extensively on diversity and leadership diversity within the workforce. She realized that while many conversations about leadership diversity focus on increasing diversity and representation in the workforce, most leadership and management books, especially most popular, are written by white men.

“An analogy I like to use is that we can change actors’ faces, but they read the same scripts,” Pham said. “And so we are used to using the same leadership stories. And I’m a big fan of all these leadership stories written by white men. And I also think there is room for more. And that’s one of the reasons I started my company — to advocate not only for my own work, but also for other leaders, authors who are women, and people of color.

Pham said other respect books tend to be more dictated, like it’s a 10-step process or a simple blueprint to follow. “For me, having lived in different places, it’s like, no, respect is relative,” Pham said.

One example Pham gives is his own experience of bringing together different independent media groups. Around 2011, she formed a Pacific Northwest coalition that brought together Spanish, Chinese, American and Russian newspapers. But there were times when she didn’t like the way she was treated by reps from other newspapers and realized it stemmed from different expectations. Pham said that by bringing together various stakeholders, people are more likely to want to be treated in different ways. So she started asking people how they would like to be treated. The word respect kept coming back.

“It’s like, ‘I want to be respected,'” Pham said. “What does that mean? People have different ideas of what that means. And so the idea here is, like, respect is relative, it’s contradictory, and it’s subjective. And it is also dynamic. [But] I think a lot of times when people talk about respect, they describe it as if it’s fixed.

Pham’s perspective on respect also derives strongly from her identity as a refugee. Her parents’ degrees were not valid in the United States, even though her father had studied engineering. There was a lot of discrimination against refugees at the time, especially in times of economic downturn. But her father had been a journalist in the South Vietnamese army and, seeing the Vietnamese community growing in the Pacific Northwest, they worked hard to establish their newspaper.

“I’m constantly thinking about different ways of seeing,” Pham said. “[My family] was resilient, enterprising and creative. That’s why it has always been seen as positive to be a refugee, not something to complain about. … Also, even studying history, it was really about studying different perspectives of events.

More often than not, we hear people talk about respect as the golden rule. But Pham finds that the golden rule is not an absolute rule. Instead, Pham introduces a different concept into 7 forms of respect — the rubber band rule. The rubber band rule asks what your internal breaking points are, what will crack you up, and then how you can take responsibility for learning in those areas. Like its namesake, the rubber band rule is more flexible and encourages people to think about how they personally show respect to others and how they want to be respected.

“I just hope people have a language to talk about how they want to be treated, how they want to be respected,” Pham said. “I really dream that one day people will talk about forms of respect like they talk about love languages. … And I really hope that one day people will say, ‘These are the [forms of respect] that I prioritize in this setting or at work.'”

Watch Pham talk about his book in a recent maintenance with Tisha Held for the Seattle Public Library.

To buy 7 Forms of Respect: A Guide to Transforming Your Communication and Relationships at Work at Bookshop.org. Pham will also talk about the book at Third place books at 17171 Bothell Way NE, #A101, Lake Forest Park, August 10, 7-8 p.m.

Amanda Ong (she) is a Chinese-American writer from California. She is currently a master’s candidate in the University of Washington’s Museology program and graduated from Columbia University in 2020 with degrees in Creative Writing and Ethnic and Racial Studies.

📸 Featured image: Julie Pham (middle, in red) discussed her new book at an event at Little Saigon Creative in July. (Photo: Hnin Johnson)

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