Many of us grow up having the golden rule repeated to us over and over again: Treat others the way you would want to be treated. In theory, this sounds great. It creates a baseline of acceptable behavior with a yardstick that we all have at our finger tips – we know how we would like to be treated and therefore can easily apply that standard to others. When the person you are applying to it is legitimately like you, this is a beautiful strategy.
Here’s the problem: Most of the people you work with are not going to be like you. They have a different background, different wants, different needs, different preferences, and are in different areas of their own development.
Executive coach David Coleman writes about the problem specifically as one of the top he comes across in his work. When you assume similarities when they don’t exist, this flaw assumption leads to unrealistic expectations and conflict.
For instance, take a manager coming into a new position that prefers a hands off approach from her manager, with broad outcomes defined but freedom to choose a direction. She assumes that her new subordinates prefer a similar management style. Think of the problems that could occur if, in fact, her subordinates prefer a more hands on approach that involves extensive feedback! Neither approach is right or wrong, good or bad, better or worse. But they are different.
Let’s make a new rule. Instead of treating others the way you want to be treated, let’s say that we’ll treat others the way they would want to be treated. Don’t approach it with a stubborn attitude – “If they’re not like me, they should be!”. Instead, look at it as an opportunity to build a solid working relationship with your colleagues. They’ll be more responsive, which means you’ll get what you need out of them.
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