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Breaking the Golden Rule

"Treat others as you would want to be treated" — the adage we've heard all our lives sounds good and seems to ensure fair treatment and, therefore, respect. But, does it? Certainly, treating others as you'd want to be treated guarantees equal treatment. It doesn't allow for differing perspectives though. It doesn't encourage us to step into the other person's shoes long enough to see and understand what they are feeling. When we do make the effort to consider the other person’s perspective, almost always we learn something new about the individual and how they want us to treat them. The Golden Rule might work in some senses, but falls short when we want to foster understanding, better communication, and true respect for individuals in the workplace. All of us can get better at perspective taking.

Before you talk with the other person, take a little practice time by

  • Looking for the weaknesses in your own approach or thoughts on the matter
  • Imagining how and why the other person came to think and feel as they do on the matter
  • Trying to envision what the other person hopes to accomplish
  • Trying to envision what the other person thinks you hope to accomplish

When you are talking with the other person, these four tips may help:

  • Pay attention – Give your undivided and full attention when the other person speaks. What is he or she saying without words (i.e.with facial expressions, tone of voice, body posture, etc.)? By taking time to observe non-verbal cues as well as verbal ones, you’ll get valuable hints not only to the person’s thoughts, but also what the person feels and how strongly.
  • Don’t tell; ask instead – You might be tempted to give your opinion. Instead, take a breath and “ask” rather than “tell.” Ask questions that invite the other person to explain the reasons behind his or her position. Use openers such as “how,” “why,” and “what” to get to the heart of the person’s point of view. Let him or her finish; never interrupt. In due time, you’ll have the opportunity to say what you think.
  • Keep asking until you understand – Let’s face it! Some of what others say sounds just plain wrong when we first hear it. When we hear what sounds like faulty reasoning, questions are even more important. When you admit you don’t understand and sincerely ask for clarification, you show that you really want to understand and are working to get there.
  • Show that you’ve heard – You don’t have to agree, but you do need to show that you heard what was said. Acknowledge the other person’s view with a comment such as “You look at that in an interesting way” or “A lot of people share your point of view.”

Work relationships are critical. We show regard for others by seeing things from their views and treating them according to their standards and beliefs. If we see things only from our own view, we limit our chances of others treating us as we would want as well. If we can learn to see things from others’ perspectives, we’ll be able to strengthen work relationships through understanding, better communication, and respect.


For more information on breaking the Golden Rule, read The Platinum Rule: Discover the Four Basic Business Personalities — and How They Can Lead to You Success by Alessandra and O’Connor. (Warner Books, New York, NY, 1996).

For more information on expressing emotions, read Managing Conflict Dynamics: A Practical Approach by Capobianco, Davis, and Kraus (Eckerd College Leadership Development Institute, St. Petersburg, FL, 2001) available at www.conflictdynamics.org.
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