For children, adhering to the “Golden Rule” that advises one to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a decision made for strictly practical reasons. Children learn early that taking others’ toys guarantees that in very short order, their own toys will be taken. Practicing this rule may not mean they get everything they want precisely when they want it, but at least their own toys are safe.
The Golden Rule, as admirable as it is, no longer suffices in the 21st-century workplace. Why? Because it is inherently self-referential, presuming that everyone wants to be treated the same way—the way we do. For young children, this rule works for a while at least because most have similar desires: Don’t take my toys, my candy, my turn, and I won’t take yours.
But it’s trickier for adults. In a diverse workplace, the way in which someone else wants to be treated could be far different from the way in which we do. Today, it’s no longer about us. If we are to show genuine respect for our co-workers, we need to employ what’s known as the “Platinum Rule.” This means treating others as they wish to be treated.
Promoting a respectful workplace
How do we follow the Platinum Rule? Today’s workplace populations include four—soon to be five—generations, made up not only of different genders and races but also of people with differing preferences, lifestyles, cultures, socioeconomic backgrounds, religious and political beliefs, physical abilities, and communication styles. Attitudes toward formality, attire, time, and hierarchy also may differ.
The thought of trying to understand others from their perspectives seems daunting. Yet true respect, and the personal and professional benefits that come with it, requires it.
We can begin by realizing that no matter our differences, we still have a great deal in common. Everyone wants to be heard and valued. We all want recognition, appreciation, encouragement, equal opportunity, and fair pay. Sometimes, due to special circumstances in our lives, we want flexibility, understanding, and sympathy. And of course, we all want the company we work for to succeed, as our own success depends upon it.
In other areas, our co-workers may want things that are not necessarily intuitive for us. In such cases, we can take these steps to create a respectful workplace:
- We need to challenge our own possible biases around age, gender, ethnicities, backgrounds, and physical abilities and not impose them on others.
- We need to steer clear of making assumptions about others’ goals, interests, values, limitations, relationships, and the pronouns they prefer.
- When in doubt about any of these, we need to respectfully and without a hint of judgment ask about others’ preferences and abide by them.
One simple idea is to give thought to and respect another’s preferred mode of communication. Our communication may be almost exclusively text based. For others, especially those who did not grow up with digital technology, the preference may be for telephone or face-to-face conversations.
We also need to consider cultural differences. When hosting a meal, we might first think of the best steakhouse in town. But our guests may have dietary restrictions or preferences that differ from ours. In making restaurant choices, we will want to remember that Hindus don’t eat beef, Muslims don’t eat pork, and Buddhists are vegetarians.
To successfully and appropriately conduct ourselves in a diverse and ever-evolving workplace, we need to employ the Platinum Rule and treat others as they wish to be treated. With any luck, our co-workers will do the same for us.
In a complex work environment, you need to accomplish work through the collaborative efforts of many people. And that means knowing how to build successful relationships.