When people mention the Golden Rule, they’re usually referring to its broad meaning: “I’m going to be as good to you as I want you to be to me.” However, Jane Hyun of Hyun & Associates and co-author of “Flex: The New Playbook for Managing Across Differences,” talks about the Golden Rule in a communication context, where it means, “I’m going to communicate with you the way I’d like you to communicate with me.”
That’s a respectful stance to take, but the problem is it may not work. The makeup of today’s workforce is often wildly diverse, with people of all types and from all sorts of places and backgrounds working together. Top-down, my-way-or-the-highway communication probably never worked that well, but these days it’s often useless. The Golden Rule becomes limiting if it’s not the way other individuals go about communicating. Effective communication with a multifaceted group of people inevitably nudges a good leader out of his or her own interaction comfort zone.
Golden Rule off the rails
In her Big Think+ video, “Becoming a Fluent Leader: Get Out of Your Comfort Zone,” Hyun relates what happened to one of her clients.
Imagining how he himself would appreciate receiving such an invitation as an employee, he informed his team that everyone was welcome to drop by his office any time with ideas, concerns, or questions. For some employees this was fine, but for some — notably people from other, more reserved cultures — the idea of being this forward made them deeply uncomfortable, and they would never appear at his office door. He resolved to pay closer attention to how people preferred to exchange ideas.
The 3 pre-engagement questions
Hyun suggests three questions to ask yourself before you begin to investigate the best way of communicating with someone.
- What is he/she thinking? Try to figure out the mindset and attitude the other person brings to the conversation.
- How do I best connect with this person? Identify the type of setting and context in which the person’s most likely to feel free to engage.
- How can I put myself in the other person’s shoes?
Try and develop a sense of who the employee is as a person — not trying to turn him/her into something else — as a way to recognize hidden potential that your exchange can expose and cultivate.
Is this more work for you? Well, yes.
It would be nice if everyone was enough like you that you didn’t have to meet them half-way. But it would also be boring, and you’d miss out on all of the unique gifts and perspectives a diverse group of employees brings to the table. By striving to be more flexible — or “fluent” in the management of the modern workforce, as Hyun terms it — you stand a far better chance of leveraging all of that multifaceted talent.