“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” We’ve all heard this as children but also as a guideline for building relationships in world of work. Sounds like good advice, right? Wrong.
The golden rule is probably the most disastrous piece of advice you can give someone when building relationships. The worst part is that it is seen as gospel by most..
The golden rule sounds like good advice but it negates diversity. Yes, everyone values respect but respect is tied to different behaviours by different people, especially when working with different cultural and sub cultural groups. I have actually experienced this first hand during my professional life in India. Being very egalitarian and informal, my definition of respect goes something like: “If something is not working for you or if you have an opinion about what we are talking about, whoever you are, speak up.” Since this is what respect looked like for me, I happily applied that in the traditional Indian industrial house in which I was working a few years ago. As you can imagine, this behaviour didn’t really fly very well in the high power distance, implicit and group oriented work culture I was working in. I remember being told that I was rude and disrespectful, even though that was never my intention and I was doing everything right…according to me. This situation really frustrated me as I could not understand what was going wrong in my relationship with my boss, peers and even direct reports. I have since learned to appreciate different ways of living respect and have, hopefully, adapted my behaviour to respect diverse people
The golden rule is full of good intentions but let’s not forget that hell is paved with good intentions too. I used respect for the sake of the example but this can be reproduced for almost all values. Professionalism, family, responsibility, accountability, honesty…the list is endless.
If you genuinely want to build effective relationships, you should treat people like THEY would like to be treated, not the way you’d like to be treated. The challenge of what some people call the platinum rule is that it requires people to actually sit down and talk with each other about values and behaviours, conversation that is never easy to have. The thing is that it is so much easier to avoid this uncomfortable discussion by minimising differences and saying that respect – add any other value – means the same thing for everyone. To have this conversation, we need to actually care about the other enough to respect them in a way that might not be natural to us…that’s leadership.