Golden Platinum Rule
The Golden Rule has got to go. Dating back to ancient times the basic idea that people should treat each other the way they themselves want to be treated is a common theme across religions and culture, but what if all of that wisdom is wrong. What if I don’t want to be treated the way a Kuwaiti woman wants to be treated? What if you don’t want to be treated the way your neighbor does? The Golden Rule is a great concept, with good intending reciprocity underlying it, but it may not always be applicable in this global world.
Instead, consider The Platinum Rule – “Treat others how they wish to be treated.” The basic assumption of the Golden Rule is that we are all the same and we all have similar preferences. The basic assumption of the Platinum Rule is that we accept the differences between us and we have a willingness to adapt to those differences while hanging on to our own individual or cultural preferences.
We don’t assume that people are going to like all of the same food that we like, so why do we assume that they will like the same treatment that we will? Some people like to be confronted, some left alone. Some people like to be hugged, some people find touching uncomfortable. Some people like to use first names, while others may find that offensive.
Take John, for example. He thinks that honesty is the best policy and doesn’t like it when people beat around the bush. When he was working with his Thai counterpart, Ngam, he got straight to the point and often called meetings to discuss progress reports and next steps. John felt that Ngam was never sharing everything with him and was often suspicious of his intentions.
Ngam felt very anxious around John, with whom he wasn’t very familiar. Ngam didn’t quite understand why he needed to be so abrupt when talking about projects, especially in meetings when other people were around. Ngam felt that before he and John could make decisions together they should check with the rest of their team and their supervisor to make sure they were authorized to move forward on John’s suggestions. Furthermore, Ngam didn’t feel it was appropriate to raise certain issues with certain people in the room.
As a result, Ngam stayed quiet a lot of the time so he could wait to check with his supervisor and John found this to be tricky, cunning, calculated and dishonest. Because John was unaware that things were done differently in Ngam’s culture he pushed forward in the way in which he was most comfortable. Because Ngam was not familiar with how John did things, he shut down which created further distance between them.
In order to apply The Platinum Rule there first must be a certain level of understanding about a counterpart’s culture, but awareness is hard to come by when communication styles differ. A good indicator that culture or personality (culture of the individual) may be playing a role is when there is a feeling of discomfort or frustration with someone. This can be leveraged as a positive if it can be seen as a learning moment.
SOLUTION: The key to applying the Platinum Rule to cross-cultural interactions is to suspend judgment and find out what your counterparts preferences are. Suspend judgment and seek out the alternative reasons behind why people do the things they do. Most people don’t walk out of their house in the morning and say, “Hey, I am going to frustrate someone today.” For the most part, people go to work hoping to do well and be productive, if not exceptional. If you find yourself saying that someone is lazy or dishonest, most likely there is something else going on.
Once judgment is suspended we can work towards learning about how we can adapt our behaviors to achieve mutual goals. In the case of John and Ngam, their discomfort with each other is a great indicator of a potential learning moment. If they can suspend their negative evaluations and use their frustrations to dig deeper into the intent behind their actions and reactions, they may be better able to get to the bottom of things.
In this case, if John learned that, traditionally, in Ngam’s culture it is inappropriate, if not rude, to 1) speak up in a meeting where there is a boss, 2) put forth his/her individual opinion without considering the group or 3) give strong handshake to a superior, John may be better able to accurately interpret the meaning behind Ngam’s style.
If Ngam was able to recognize that in John’s culture meetings are for brainstorming and decision-making, he may be able to better equip himself and his team mates to get the authorizations they need and come to some kind of consensus on what their shared goals are.
Since the Golden Rule has so much goodness behind it, I am not suggesting we throw it out completely, but simply adapt the way we think about it moving forward. In the end, by taking the time to learn about someone else’s preference we are better able to walk the talk of being global and adapt our behaviors while still hanging on tightly to our home core values. It is basic human nature to assume that people want things the way we do, but in a globalizing world that idea may just not be as golden as we once thought.comment