Breaking The Golden Rule

Once we’ve come to terms with just how high the cost of poor communication can be, and how any poor communication skills existing in our organizations add fuel to other fires that are killing our profitability, we have plenty of reason to address the lack of communication between our managers and employees! Let’s be honest though, if doing it were as simple as saying it, would there be any need to discuss it here?

We’ve already worked through many of the effects of poor communication in the workplace so I won’t hash them all out again now. What I will do though is suggest that I’m not sure I’ve ever met someone who just wanted to communicate ineffectively with their team - or anyone else for that matter. I believe that all too often, it simply boils down to not having the right tools for the job (or even knowing those tools exist)!

Most everyone I know is familiar with some variation of The Golden Rule; do unto others as you’d have them do unto you… Truth be told, our society would have a lot less crap going on if we all did a better job of following it. But while this may solve a ton of the issues we see in the headlines on any given day, breaking The Golden Rule may be just what we need for addressing the profitability killer that is poor communication!

One evening several years ago, I received a text message from my son asking, “How do I get people to do what I tell them to do?” He was working second shift in a manufacturing facility at the time and it was his first evening filling in as a back-up lead for the assembly line he had been part of for a couple of years at that point. My answer was, “Call me tomorrow morning because that’s not something I can answer in a text.”

When he called the following morning, the first thing I needed to know to have any hope of providing him with solid feedback was why he was asking; did he have team members who weren’t doing what they were required to do or did he believe they were capable of accomplishing more? He was quick to explain that the line team was great! He said they were already the most productive on the shift, but he felt like they could do even better and he wondered how he could bring that out in them. 

As a dad, I still get excited all these years later when I think back to that conversation. The fact that Matt, in his early 20’s at the time, saw more potential in his team and wanted to learn how he could bring it out in them was something I just haven’t seen very often. But to get the results he was hoping for from “having them do what he told them to,” it wouldn’t be as simple as making a blanket statement to them all at the beginning of the shift. And only a few of them would have responded positively to him if he would have communicated with them the way he wanted to be communicated with… Like me, Matt is pretty direct and to the point. He thrives on being challenged and will go out of his way to accomplish a task, especially if someone doesn’t think he can!

Matt certainly could have taken that approach but I’m positive that the results wouldn’t have been anything close to what he was hoping for. Instead, we talked through how he could break The Golden Rule with each member of his team and do unto them as they would want instead of how he would want. Because I knew each of the folks working with him, I was able to give him specific insight that helped him achieve the goal in that initial text message but I was also able to provide him with a simple approach for doing the same thing with anyone else moving forward. He was excited to put it into practice, it was just a matter of understanding how!

Learning How Starts with Understanding Why…

A week or two after Matt and I had the hour-long conversation about how he could “get people to do what he told them to do,” he called again to ask what kind of voodoo magic I had taught him… Breaking the golden rule in how he was communicating with each of the individuals on his line team had provided him with an immediate increase in daily productivity and, at least with regards to that specific part of the operation, it was making a dent in a significant profitability killer! But it didn’t have any roots in voodoo or black magic, it was as simple as learning to act on what his team was showing him through their behavior!

OK, so maybe that doesn’t sound so simple… Terms like human behavior and emotional intelligence get quite a bit of attention in the scientific and academic communities so one could easily believe that learning to recognize what any given person needs by studying their behavior is something extremely complicated and would require years of observation. Like so many other things in the world of academia, this has been made far more difficult than necessary!

In chapter seven of Everyone Communicates, Few Connect, Connectors do the Difficult Work of Keeping it Simple, John Maxwell cites John Beckley, former business editor of Newsweek, as saying,

“The emphasis in education is rarely placed on communicating ideas simply and clearly. Instead, we’re encouraged to use more complicated words and sentence structures to show off our learning and literacy… Instead of teaching us how to communicate as clearly as possible, our schooling in English teaches us how to fog things up. It even implants a fear that if we don’t make our writing complicated enough, we’ll be considered uneducated.”

I’m convinced that Beckley’s statement is a big reason organizations lose so much profitability to misunderstandings! I’m also convinced that the same thing applies when it comes to the true simplicity of observing human behavior… I don’t make that statement as some clinician who’s spent thousands of hours in a lab, watching someone through a one-way mirror. I share that from the perspective of a press operator who learned the simplicity of watching for behavioral patterns and was teaching that to his peers in similar roles across North American just a few years later…

In 1998, at just 22 years old and with only a few college credits to my name, I learned a simple approach that had proven to be effective worldwide for observing how someone worked for just fifteen minutes and being able to, with a high degree of accuracy, identify the potential they had for experiencing an injury. Since the framework of this behavior-based safety process tied in so well with John Maxwell’s suggestion of “keeping the cookies on the bottom shelf” (so they’re easier to reach), it was something that made sense to me immediately. And not only did it make sense, it was something I could use in practice right away after learning what to watch for!

I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time, but the simplicity of that framework was really in providing a foundation for understanding why we behave the way we do. Once I had that in my head though, learning how to recognize behaviors through a set of patterns proved to be really simple. When it comes to things that have been made to appear so complicated, like ascending to an almost mystical plane of emotional intelligence or by proving that soft skills like leadership and communication to be VERY tangible, recognizing what our team members need by watching their behaviors shouldn’t be like the cookies that are on the top shelf and can’t be reached without a stool. The simple approach I taught Matt in less than an hour on the phone was based on a pattern we can all follow in every situation where communication matters, so let’s look at how to follow The Platinum Rule and why it’s so important…

Following a Simple Pattern

With just a basic understanding of why people do what they do, Matt was about to intentionally break the golden rule with his team and avoid so many of the costs of poor communication! By following a simple pattern, he was able to begin adding fuel to a different fire… Instead of the fire responsible for killing the productivity (and profitability) of his assembly line, the fire he was adding fuel to was one that gave each team member what they needed and yielded a level of buy-in and commitment that produced great results! What was that simple pattern? I’m so glad you asked…

The pattern Matt began following after that conversation consisted of a minor twist on that golden rule so many of us grew up hearing over and over. When it comes to the way we communicate with others, our results are so much better when we treat them like THEY want to be treated instead of how WE want to be treated. This idea of The Platinum Rule was something a friend mapped out for me close to a decade ago. Not only has it helped me in nearly every interaction I’ve had since, it’s proven to be a game-changer for helping leaders minimize the profit they’re losing in their organizations due to misunderstandings.

Just like learning to observe and address behaviors that contribute to workplace injuries had a significant impact on reducing injury rates and worker’s compensation costs because it was based on understanding a pattern, eliminating (or at least minimizing) confusion in the message we send our teams is truly as simple as providing the message the way each individual can best receive it. And while that may sound like a steep hill to climb, it boils down to looking for the answers to two simple questions and tailoring our message based on what we see…

Before I give you those questions though, I want you to picture someone whose pace in approaching a task is drastically different from yours. Maybe that’s someone who’s all in, all the time, and they just overwhelm you. Or maybe it’s someone who is much slower to take action but they’re very intentional about each and every thing they do. Whether we need to speed up to hang with them or slow down to make sure we’re providing them with the time they need to process the details, communicating with someone who has such a different pace from us requires a lot of energy! But when we invest the energy necessary to match our pace to theirs, we’re communicating with them in a way that they’re much more likely to receive it AND we’re knocking a dent into the poor communication profitability killer!

Adapting our pace to be in line with someone else is something we can learn to do fairly quickly because we can see whether they’re faster or slower paced than us almost immediately. I’m not suggesting it’s always easy to do, just that it is easy to see… The second question we’ll need to answer to be able to effectively follow that pattern (and follow The Platinum Rule) takes a bit more focus. We need to determine whether the individual we’re communicating with is more focused on the task at hand or the people involved in that task with them. Providing you with a complete framework for doing this quickly every single time is more involved than I can get into here but it’s something Cindy and I have helped dozens of organizations and hundreds of individuals become great at. That said, there’s a cheat code! Since two-thirds of everyone we’ll ever interact with tend to focus more on the people they're involved with than the task at hand, our best course of action is to begin by showing we value that individual before we dive into what we need to get accomplished. The more task focused folks may get impatient at times, wanting to get things done, but that impatience is usually really visible and serves as a cue to move things along!

Working through that for each individual on Matt’s team took about an hour and me knowing each of them for years played a big part in why I could offer that level of detail. But once he understood the pattern, he’s been able to apply it in almost every interaction he’s had since; with the new folks who started working on his line, the customers he interacts with on a daily basis now, and even the people he’s in line with at the grocery store! This simple pattern certainly helps address the poor communication profitability killer, but it also plays a key role in keeping every other profitability killer we’ll look at moving forward from taking a toll on our businesses!