The Quick Summary
The Golden Rule has been around for centuries, but treating others how you like to be treated has flaws. Not everyone wants to be treated the way you do. That's why we recommend instead using The Platinum Rule: treat others how they want to be treated. Prioritizing the needs of others builds stronger, healthier relationships.
For the full story, keep reading.
The Golden Rule
We've all heard the centuries-old "Golden Rule", usually written something like, "Do unto others as you'd have done to you." Essentially, it means you should treat people how you like to be treated yourself. It can even be boiled down to "Be kind." This ethical precept has great intentions and can lead to a lot of good. After all, I want people to be nice to me so it's only appropriate for me to be nice to others.
Dig below the surface, however, and it leads to a lot of problems stemming from positive intent and misunderstandings. Most everyone can recall a time where they did something nice for someone and that person got angry or sad instead. You were likely confused because you treated them exactly how you would have liked to been treated and yet they didn't appreciate it at all.
That is the trouble with the Golden Rule. It puts the focus on an individual to decide how others should be treated based on what they themselves prefer. What you consider kind I might consider rude. But if we are to form positive relationships and embrace one another's differences, this approach needs to be flipped on its head.
The Platinum Rule
Coined by Tony Alessandra in his 1996 book of the same name, The Platinum Rule takes the well-meaning of The Golden Rule and makes it more effective for creating healthy relationships: "Treat others how they would like to be treated". Whereas The Golden Rule asks you to base your treatment of others on your own preferences, The Platinum Rule proposes the opposite.
The Platinum Rule puts the burden on each of us to get to know those with which we interact. Rather than assuming how you would like to be treated, I should take the time to ask and understand so that I can treat you the way you would like to be treated. This approach is more personable, more effective, and more beneficial for all relationships. It reminds us that we are all different and by putting effort into learning the needs and desires of our peers, we can work and live together in more harmony.
Understanding How To Treat Others
The Golden Rule is great in that it is universally easy. I can treat anyone the way I like to be treated because I know what I like and it's how I operate on a daily basis already. Unfortunately, The Platinum Rule isn't so straightforward. It requires learning new information about every new person. At that point, you may also need to get into new habits so that you will actually act in the way they desire. This can be especially difficult if someone's preferences are radically different than your own.
Although not effortless, this also isn't as difficult as it may seem. The first step you can take is simply asking someone directly. "How do you like to receive feedback?" They probably know the answer and will gladly tell you. Asking requires little effort and you'll get a clear answer without having to figure it out yourself.
If you are uncomfortable asking but you deal alright with conflict resolution, you can start your approach with The Golden Rule. If how you treat them isn't received well, bring it up to them. "I noticed you looked upset when I gave you public praise. That's how I prefer to be recognized, but it doesn't seem to be the way you prefer to be recognized. How could I have done that differently?" The interaction on its own will likely create more of a personable relationship and the response you receive will allow you to implement The Platinum Rule going forward, now that you know.
There are many other ways to do this as well. Also, a lot of this will come to you over time the longer you spend working and interacting with those around you. The thing to remember is that everyone is unique and will have their own needs and wants. Understanding those will enable you to treat them in the way they prefer.
Creating A Platinum Rule Environment
It's one thing for an individual to vow to treat others how they would like to be treated. It's an entirely different challenge to ask every member of an organization to do this for one another. Yet, most of us can likely name a few companies who have a positive culture and likely do something similar already. So, how do you do it?
Several companies do personality tests for all employees, sharing those results so anyone can see what type of approach might be best for their coworkers. While it doesn't reveal approaches for specific situations, this can provide a great baseline for making guesses or to prepare coworkers for how to engage one another to ask for more specifics.
Another great way to make this goal more intentional is to bake it into your onboarding processes. At Octopy, for example, we ask new team members to fill out a form with a bunch of questions, including:
Which pronoun do you prefer?
Are you alright with receiving surprises at your address without prior notice?
When receiving team/work communications, which medium(s) do you prefer?
What's your ideal relationship with your direct leader/manager?
How do you best receive feedback?
Though just a handful of the questions, these examples share a mix of personal and professional inquiries and there are no wrong answers for any of them. It helps us understand the person so that we can immediately know how to interact with them in a way that lets them feel seen and respected.
As you can see, there is a lot you can do to start creating an environment where people can treat one another in the best way possible. Everyone wants to work more harmoniously with their peers and giving them the tools to do so is a win for everybody. If you aren't sure where to start, start with yourself. What can you do to better understand those close to you so that you can set the example?