We probably all know the Golden Rule – “Do unto Others as You Would Have Others Do Unto You.” Perhaps, however, the “Platinum Rule” is better for today – “Do Unto Others as Others Want to be Done Unto”.
The former assumes that everyone wants what you do, and at some level, this is true. We all want love, sufficient nourishment, freedom etc., but these are very macro wants. Even these, at the micro level, are often expressed in very different ways.
Now we are all aware of the differences that exists for trivial issues such as preference in music, or hobbies, or the types of books we like to read. But how often do you recommend a book to someone without really knowing whether or not the person is even interested in the type of literature you are endorsing? Generally, we start from an unconscious bias that if we find something great, everyone else will as well.
This is not particularly problematic in areas where we do not have much of our self invested in the degree to which others share our preferences. But what happens when these preferences strike closer to the person whom we believe we are?
Suppose you are a very direct type of person, and you have a clear preference for others being completely direct with you. You say things like, “It’s a spade, not an instrument for moving dirt”, or “
You got something to say, say it. Don’t pussy foot around”, or even “Suck it up, princess”. When people have a problem with something you are doing, you expect others to let you know. Because this is the way you like others to interact with you, you assume that this is the way everyone else (except the Snowflakes, of course) want to be treated. Then you wonder why people refer to you as tactless, and blunt in a tone that suggests these are major character flaws.
Direct vs. indirect may indeed be a personality characteristic, but there is today another dimension of which it is very helpful to be aware. Anthropologist Edwin Hall wrote about Low Context vs. High Context cultures and the use of language within their cultural structure. Low Context, exemplified by German, Swiss, and the UK, trend to exchange information explicitly and directly through the words used, and rarely is anything implicit or hidden. High Context Cultures, such as Japan, many Arab Countries such as Saudi Arabia, and Thailand or Spain, often implicitly refer to the real meaning through non-verbal cues and shared cultural understanding.
As our workplaces become more diversified and multi-cultural, it is helpful to be aware of communication difference that most often are out of the level of awareness of most of us.
Someone asks you “Do you want to go to a movie tonight?”
Low Context language people would answer ”yes” or “no” . High context speakers would quite possibly see this as rude or abrupt and would prefer an answer such as “We could do that, or perhaps we could think about gong to the concert.”
There are other differences that do not appear to be related to culture or language but which, nevertheless, give a great deal of weight to the Platinum Rule. People who are extroverted love to be recognized in public and seldom think that the more introverted would rather stay home than be recognized in front of everyone at a company function.
So, before you suggest that someone try something, you might want to find out where the person stands on that issue. Do NOT engage in what I call the Brussel sprout fantasy. My mother was always trying to get me to eat Brussel sprouts. “Try them. You’ll like them. Pretend they are baby cabbages”. There was nothing my mother could say that would convince me that I would like Brussel sprouts. I hated them 70 years ago. I hate them 70 years later, and no matter how you dress them up, I will never like them. Just because she liked them she was sure that if I only ate them a sufficient number of times I would grow to love them as well.
It is hard, when your intention is noble, to realize that people may not want what you are offering – help advice, or information. And it is even harder to realize that what you are offering may just not be what the other person wants.
For more information on high vs. low context, see: http://www2.pacific.edu/sis/culture/pub/Context_Cultures_High_and_Lo.htm As far as I know there are no citations for the Brussel Sprouts Fantasy. Pity.
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