Why Good Teammates Ignore the Golden Rule

Last week, I led a team retreat for a department of more than 100 specialty healthcare professionals in the southeast. The mix of providers, MAs, nurses, schedulers, front-desk staff, and administrators were enthusiastically engaged in the workshop on fostering teamwork and camaraderie in the workplace, and it was a privilege to be with them that day.

Early in the program, I led an activity designed to draw out what it means to be a “good teammate.” As we captured ideas on a flip chart, one participant raised her hand and suggested that being a good teammate means “treating others the way you want to be treated.”

“That’s what we’ve been taught almost since birth, right?” I replied. “So I understand that anyone who operates with that in mind is usually doing so with good intent. But would you be interested in hearing why that often does more harm than good?”

The room collectively nodded.

I explained that every person there will be wildly successful as a teammate or supervisor when working with people who are just like them. Inevitably, I noted, many of the folks we work with are different from us in a variety of ways. Differences in personality, age, race, gender, culture, experience, education, and more means that what’s right or preferred for you might not be for someone else. This is why we instead have to adopt a different mindset, one that is based not on the Golden Rule but on what has become known as the Platinum Rule: Treat others the way they want to be treated.

For example, imagine that a colleague comes to work one morning and excitedly shares with you that her daughter just received a full academic scholarship to a prestigious university. Mom is thrilled and details all the work that her daughter (with Mom’s help!) put in to making that happen. Later that day, at a team huddle, your boss opens by asking if anyone has any news or notes to share. Your colleague doesn’t mention it, so you prompt her by saying, “Judy has some great news about her daughter!” Your co-worker suddenly looks uncomfortable. She shuffles her feet and, while staring at the floor, mumbles to the group about the scholarship.

If you spoke with your co-worker later, she might tell you that she wished you hadn’t said anything. Perhaps she doesn’t like sharing details about her children in the workplace. Perhaps she’s worried that others will think she’s bragging. Maybe she prefers to keep any conversation related to money or finances confined to a close circle of confidants. While you may have been excited to celebrate with co-workers if this were news about your family, your teammate wasn’t.

In this case, treating others the way you want to be treated caused harm.

The best teammates and leaders don’t use their own preferences or identity alone to determine how to treat people. They work to understand others. How do you know how others want to be treated? You ask. You get to know them. You, as Stephen Covey famously said, seek first to understand than to be understood.

Want a more colorful way to understand and remember this point?

You wouldn’t cook a steak dinner for a vegetarian, right?

If you want to be a better leader, a better teammate, or a better partner to anyone, in any circumstance, adopt the mindset of the Platinum Rule.

Treat others the way they want to be treated.

Joe Mull, M.Ed, is a leadership trainer and keynote speaker. He works with healthcare organizations that want their practice leaders to engage, inspire, and succeed. To learn more or bring Joe to your site, visit www.joemull.com.


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