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Workplace Relationships – The Golden Rule Paradox

Senior leaders spend more time on relationships as they move up in the organization than on ‘doing the work.’ It becomes more about inspiring others, motivating your team, managing stakeholders. When thinking about how to work with others I sometimes hear people say to follow the age-old “Golden Rule” – to treat others as you wish to be treated. It seems on the surface to be a great ethos for workplace relationships; interact with them how you would wish them to interact with you.

The Paradox

The paradox is that the Golden Rule should be broken especially when you are interacting with someone you know, that you are in relationship with, be it a team member or family member.

What if the Golden Rule was to treat people on your team how they want to be treated? As how they want to be treated may be different than how you want to be treated. Not better or worse, just different

I like tea with a bit of milk. You like black coffee. If I was following the Golden Rule, I’d serve you tea. If I want to have a great relationship with you would I serve you white tea or black coffee?

Authentically Adapting to Others and The Situation

Adapting authentically to others and the situation is about how you navigate that space between you and another person with whom you are in contact, in a way that still allows you to be you and to achieve what you want to achieve. First, this assumes you need and/or want to be in contact with this other person. In the workplace, you probably need them in some way to achieve your goal or the organization’s objective(s). Second, you know you are different from the other person, with differing perspectives, inter-relational preferences, personalities and objectives. And since you are the one reading this, you are responsible for managing your interaction with them. Lastly, this isn’t about you conforming to their needs and wishes or changing who you are; it’s about you being who you are with all your uniqueness while interacting. This is about being yourself with more skill. It’s too much work and energy to be someone you aren’t, so I suggest striving to be your better self.

Isn’t Adapting to Your Staff Really Complying?

The Oxford English Dictionary definition of adapting is: “make (something) suitable for a new use or purpose; modify. Become adjusted to new conditions.”

Complying is one means of adapting oneself when interacting with another person, as is mimicking or confronting. Adapting, when it comes to building a relationship, using soft skills and wanting to achieve business or family objectives, is subtler or more nuanced than just copying or complying. Adapting is about being intentional in the way you interact with the other person.

Workplace Relationships – How to Build Relationships in the Workplace

  1. Know yourself – this is so you are conscious of your preferences, values, default habits, communication style, what you are bringing to the interaction.
  2. Know the other person as best you can – being curious about what they are thinking, and feeling, is very helpful for you to know the other half of the dynamic. Coaching skills are useful here to learn about the other person by inquiring without interrogating. The more often you interact with someone, the more you could learn about them; start to create a picture of them that parallels the information you have about yourself. Step into their shoes. Look at the world from their perspective as best you can.
  3. Be aware of the situation you find yourself in or that you are trying to create – in emotional intelligence language this is called social awareness.
    1. What do you want to achieve?
    2. What are the needs and wants of the other person?
    3. What are your feelings in this moment?
    4. What are the feelings of the other person right now?
    5. What are the stressors in terms of topic or time that might impact things?
    6. Are you on the same side or opposite sides or on the bridge together?
  4. Start the exchange.
    1. Start by checking you know where each of you is relative to the river (topic). ”What I wanted to talk about is…” or “The objective for this conversation is…” or “I want to touch base on…”
    2. Give context – leaders give context rather than just focusing on the content. Leaders don’t assume people know where they are coming from or why they are asking for whatever they are asking for.
    3. Check if they are on the same page as you – ask them “I want to make sure I’m being clear, what are you taking from what I am sharing?” This puts the responsibility for being clear on you, rather than asking them if they understand.
    4. Respond to what they say; remember, respond, not react. As Stephen Covey brilliantly said decades ago in The 7 habits of highly effective people: “Seek first to understand then to be understood.” That means listening to understand what they are saying, checking in that you understand what they’ve said, where they are coming from, what their perspective is, before putting forward your opinion and trying to be understood by them.
    5. Be You
    6. Repeat

More on this in Principle 6 of my book, Soft Skills Hard Results.

The Challenge

Where could you stretch to treat people as they want to be treated? Without compromising your identity?

If you wish to explore those questions further, book a complimentary exploratory session with me here.

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