Moving Beyond the Golden Rule

Kim Christfort, National Director, Deloitte Greenhouses & Leadership Center for Clients

Moving Beyond the Golden Rule

“Do unto others as you’d have others do unto you.” Interestingly, some version of this Golden Rule concept exists in more than 20 religions and philosophies around the world. For many applications, in work and in life, it makes a lot of sense. Unfortunately, it’s often not that helpful when it comes to deciding how to interact with people in a business setting.

The truth is that the majority of the population IS NOT just like you in terms of how they process information, how they make decisions, and how they like to communicate. And this is where the Golden Rule can trip you up.

We’ve had situations where we couldn’t connect with someone else, no matter how hard we tried. It’s easy in those situations to say, “That person just doesn’t get it, because if I were them I would…”Our instinct is to assume that other people are just like us, and to treat them accordingly. But when it comes to personality and style, majority of the time this assumption is wrong.

Today, most personality systems emphasize introspection and self-understanding, a sort of systematized navel gazing that can be informative and pleasingly narcissistic but not easily actionable.  The true opportunity in the workplace comes from refocusing beyond yourself to things you can observe about other people’s behaviors. To pick up on clues on other people’s preferences and styles and then to decide how to adapt your own style accordingly. People are more often receptive to you, and your message, when you’re speaking to them in their own language.

Five years ago at Deloitte, we started investigating this opportunity by bringing scientists from the fields of neuro-anthropology and genetics together with business executives and data scientists to develop a new approach to understanding business styles – one that cuts through the noise of personality data to flag the observable traits that really matter.  The result is Business Chemistry, a system that highlights four primary patterns of behavior and provides insight around how to relate to them.  While everyone is a combination of all four patterns, most people are characterized by one or two of the types.

These patterns are:

  • The Driver: analytical thinkers who are focused on achieving goals and prefer data-driven experimentation over theorization
  • The Pioneer: blue-sky ideas people who seek novelty and are comfortable adapting to multiple environments
  • The Integrator: masters of empathy and nuance who are interested in connecting on a personal level and weaving together disparate perspectives
  • The Guardian: detail-oriented individuals who create stability by establishing structure and minimizing risk

Not surprisingly, people find it easier to work with individuals like themselves – you naturally know how someone with a similar style will likely think and behave, and so you can apply the Golden Rule (somewhat) safely. And yet this homogeneity can be limiting, even crippling for a business.

But personality diversity can also lead to communication challenges. Guardians may think Pioneers are unrealistic, and Pioneers may see Guardians as inflexible.  Integrators may feel Drivers are too abrasive, and Drivers may believe Integrators are too sensitive. These conflicts typically lead to frustration and ineffective execution. 

The difference between success and challenge hinges on recognizing the distinct Business Chemistry patterns and acknowledging that the perspective, while different, is valid.The next step is adapting in order to relate more effectively. For instance, Pioneers can underpin their theories with facts, or Drivers can take time to make small talk before zeroing in on the agenda.

The most successful groups we’ve studied take it one step further though. They actively cultivate diversity – in leadership pairings, within teams, and across organizations – in order to balance different strengths and develop a richer approach to achieving business objectives. They go beyond just adapting style on a one-on-one basis to actively appreciating and leveraging the multi-dimensionality of their people.

So next time you’re dealing with that difficult individual or stymied team, consider whether there may be personality differences at play. Consider whether there are opportunities to tap into a broader set of capabilities to propel your organization forward.  And consider whether it’s time to upgrade to a new workplace “Platinum Rule”: Engage with others as they would want you to engage with them.It’s what I’d do…if I were you.

About the Author

Kim Christfort heads Deloitte’s Leadership Center for Clients Group (LCC), which helps executives tackle tough business challenges through immersive, facilitated Lab experiences and client experience IP such as Business Chemistry. As part of this role, Kim leads U.S. Deloitte Greenhouses, permanent spaces designed to promote exploration and problem solving away from business as usual.