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My oldest daughter who is attending the University of Vermont as a Psychology major will be going to Bali at the end of the month to study abroad. As part of the prerequisites to prepare her for the trip, she was required to read The Platinum Rule by Dr. Tony Alessandra. As my daughter shared with me her views about the book, I couldn’t help but think how much it related to Generative Dialogue.
Most of us have probably heard of the Golden Rule, the premise being to treat others as you would like to be treated. While many people aspire to live by this “rule”, the basic assumption it implies is that other people want to be treated as you do – always.
The Platinum Rule on the other hand teaches us to treat others the way they want to be treated. In this, the emphasis of the relationship shifts from “this is what I want; so I’ll give everyone the same thing” to “let me first understand what another wants”. This shift of focus accommodates the feelings of others, helping you to understand what drives them, and in that recognize your options for how to interact with them.
We all know the potential dangers of what it means to Ass-U-Me: It makes an ass out of you and an ass out of me. Yet in many – if not most – of our relationships, we often base our assumptions on how we envision someone will feel, react or respond to certain people or situations. We try to put ourselves in another person’s shoes; yet how is this even possible? The truth of the matter is: we cannot fully walk in the shoes of another because we cannot fully understand their journey. No matter how well intentioned, the Golden Rule is fundamentally flawed because it requires us to assume what will make people feel acknowledged, happy and comfortable. The Platinum Rule in effect removes assumptions because it requires you to communicate with another in a way to fully understand them — to learn from them how they want to be treated.
The Platinum Rule was first developed by an acclaimed communication researcher, Milton Bennett who believed that interacting with others the way you think they would like to be treated would create, at its essence, empathy — “the imaginative, intellectual and emotional participation in another person’s experience.” The goal according to Bennett is to treat others the way they want to be treated — or at least be aware of what that is — in an “attempt to think and feel what another person thinks and feels and then go beyond that by taking positive action toward others in response to your empathic feelings.” This is particularly important when interacting with someone who is dramatically different from you. “When interacting with someone who is quite different from you, treating him or her as you’d like to be treated may not achieve relational benefits.” Yet there is evidence that if you master certain “principles and skills, you will be rewarded with greater insight and ability to relate to others.”
Milton Bennett developed a framework describing the different ways in which people can react to differences which he called the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) — also known as the Bennett Scale. Organized into six stages, DMIS “identifies the underlying cognitive orientations individuals use to understand cultural difference.” In simplest terms, the six stags are as follows:
Denial of Difference
My worldview/culture is the only “real” one.
Defense against Difference
My worldview/culture is experienced as the most “evolved” or best way to live.
Minimization of Difference
The experience of similarity in our worldviews/cultures outweighs the experience of difference.
Acceptance of Difference
My own worldview/culture is one of a number of equally complex worldviews/cultures.
Adaptation to Difference
I am capable of expanding my own worldview to accurately understand your worldview/culture and behave in appropriate ways through effective use of empathy to understand and be understood.
Integration of Difference
My experience of self can expanded to include the movement in and out of different cultural worldviews.
Using the Bennett Scale, Generative Dialogue links to #5 and #6 above. When a group is in “true Dialogue”, you are developing your collective knowledge, actively seeking information via empathetic listening and inquiry. In this, you are able to tolerate ambiguity. You are mindful of your basic assumptions and avoid negative judgments. You become creatively flexible through a desire to learn about the worldview of others in a way to fully understand them. You reduce uncertainty by asking questions from a place of authentic curiosity, merging all aspects of the worldviews in the room in an effort to develop shared meaning. In Dialogue, you take your time, slowing the cadence. Uncertainty is expected and you embrace differences, rather than ignoring them, learning as you interact, adjusting your behavior as appropriate.
Given that we spend nearly 85% of each day in communication with others, it would behoove us to become as good at it as possible. Yet we seldom put focus towards how our partners, associates and colleagues want to be communicated with. We are not all the same; we therefore don’t want the same things. At its core, The Platinum Rule is a way to take you out of the equation, empathizing with others to understand them, building rapport and fostering stronger relationships.
Dr. Tony Alessandra and his book: The Platinum Rule
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