The Golden RuleThe ‘Golden Rule’ or ‘ethic of reciprocity’ – essentially, ‘treat others as you would like others to treat you’ – is one of the foundation stones of morality, not just in Western thought but in religions and cultures worldwide.

It’s currently undergoing something of a revival among business thought leaders – as in this article in the Harvard Business Review about The Rise of Compassionate Management, and Karen Armstrong’s award-winning TED talk.

The Golden Rule is essential, but to get the best results from your staff, colleagues, and even your boss, it doesn’t go far enough. Treating others as you would like to be treated yourself will work wonderfully when the others have the same interests, preferences and values as you. But not everyone is like you – if the other person is sufficiently different, treating them as you would like to be treated yourself may even be counter-productive.

Let’s say you like to feel cared for and valued as a person, and for your colleagues to value you as a person. So you might make sure to take the time to spend a few minutes connecting with your colleagues, asking them how their day is, what’s happening with their family, and so on.

But what if one of your colleagues is really task-focused, and interested only in results? They’re going to get frustrated after a few minutes or even a few seconds of chit-chat, because they really want to get down to work. What matters to them is getting things done, not the warm and fuzzy stuff.

Or you may value recognition, and get a big buzz when other people applaud your achievements. So if one of your team has made a particular contribution, when you make a point of bringing them to the front of the room and congratulating them on what they have done so they get a round of applause from the team, you’re really motivating them, right? Still more so if you call for a speech so they really get their moment in the sun.

Well, not if they’re a quiet team player who shuns the limelight. They will most likely be squirming with embarrassment under the gaze of all those eyes, and can’t wait to get back to the comfort of their familiar cubicle.

Not everyone reacts the same in a given situation, so take care to get to notice what motivates your individual team members, your customers or clients, and your boss. That way, you can practice the Golden Rule in a more meaningful and effective way, and avoid your good intentions backfiring.

It’s actually easy to notice four general patterns that emerge in people’s styles of behaving, and once you are familiar with identifying these, your communication and management will become more effective. We’ll explore these in a series of future articles.


The ‘Golden Rule’ Is Not Enough

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