Don’t Treat People Like You Want to be Treated

I have never understood the logic behind the idea that you should treat people like you want to be treated. I know I am different; I don’t want what lots of other people seem to want. If I treat them how I want to be treated, they are not happy.

I understand the sentiment behind the statement. I think it is much more effectively stated as: treat people how they want to be treated. An understanding of psychology will provide you with the understanding that people are different and want to be treated differently, while wanting to feel that they are valued and respected. Some people will like a boisterous extroverted environment and others will want to be able to have some time to concentrate and think by themselves. Some people will want to avoid confrontation at almost any costs others will want to deal openly and directly with issues confronting the organization. And most people will be somewhere in between the alternatives.

I don’t want to be thanked for trivial matters. But I have seen lots of people do like this. I do like to be challenged on what I claim and debate the merits of the idea (if I can learn I am wrong, it is much better to do it early and change – instead of waiting for some problem to develop). I notice a lot of others don’t like this at all. I don’t like to be interrupted when I am trying to concentrate. I know lots of others don’t understand this. And when they are treating others as they want to be treated the thought that others are trying to concentrate doesn’t cross their minds. They are not intentionally trying to be disruptive. They are trying to include others as they would like to be included. I find it annoying when we celebrate some minor success while much more serious problems are left unaddressed. I realize most others don’t have this problem.

I like to see data and evidence to back up claims and to explore what the data strongly shows and what conclusions are more tenuous. I know many just get bored by numbers and don’t want to see endless charts and figures. I like to be challenged and asked difficult questions in meetings. I know lots of people do not like this. I would like to ask other people difficult questions (but don’t – if I went with the treat people like you want to be treated idea I would ask). I like change that is part of a sensible strategy of improvement (that measures results to avoid change for that isn’t improvement, which I don’t like). However, I understand many people are uncomfortable with change. I despise sitting in meetings without agendas or a clear purpose that wander and don’t seem to accomplish anything. Others seem un-bothered by this (though I know in this feeling I am with the majority).

I think a key to managing people is to take time to think about the individuals involved, what your intention is, and then to act in a way that is tailored to how that person wants to be treated. Some people will want to be recognized publicly. Some people may want to discuss in private how they could do even better. Some people may like to be given the opportunity to lead a meeting. Others would rather be given the opportunity to create a new design for the intranet. Others may like the opportunity to train new staff on some aspect of their job. Some people may want opportunities to move up the corporate ladder. Others would rather have some time off to pursue other interests.

You should treat people how they want to be treated, not how you want to be treated.

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There is also a fair amount of fear, in my opinion behind treating people the same way. if you treat people like individuals then people can complain about people not being treated the same way. I understand that treating people like individuals and therefore acting differently does mean you are not treating them exactly the same. To which I say – good, that is what you should do. People should be treated fairly but that can be differently.

Another example, I could not care less if someone remembers my name or not. But I have noticed plenty of others seem to believe remembering a name is important.

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13 Responses to Don’t Treat People Like You Want to be Treated

  1. Bryan Lund says:

    Hi John,

    I agree with you, the term has never really made any sense. Because I often don’t want rewards for things I’ve accomplished, so is that the way I would treat people? No.

    I think the meaning behind the saying “treat people the way you would want to be treated” is another way of saying, “do not mistreat people.”

    Regardless of who the individual is, nobody wants to be mistreated. Unless their really whacked out in the head, but for the most part they do not want to be mistreated whether that treatment is the way you would prefer it or not.


  2. shaun sayers says:

    Interesting angle, Jon

    I think maybe you’ve identified a little ladder of understanding where the first level is “treat as you would like to be treated” as a means of embedding a general level of empathy, where the more advanced level requires a more specific understanding of needs. Good argument

    Can I re-post on Capable Blog? I like it

  3. YvesHanoulle says:

    Hi John,

    I agree. People want to be treated different.
    For me the “idea” behind treat me as you want to be treated is “treat me with respect”.
    >Respect means looking at what the other persons wants and at the same time respectfully challenge them.
    (It might not be what they want but what they need.)
    NOT saying that someone has a problem she is not aware of, is NOT respectful.
    He might not like it when you say it, at least he now has the chance to change it.

    Lots of parents have the same problem, “I want to give all my children the same”.
    Well if you give you giev your children 100 euro when they are born, you already not treating them the same (100 5 years ago is differen then 100 euro today). That is a fact.
    Treating them all the same is the easiest if you all treat them differently, you give them what they need. ( what they want)


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  5. I’ve called this The Golden, Golden Rule: do unto others as they would have done unto them….reflects your choice to understand the other person, empathize, not make it about you… an apt first step to creating an “us” – vital to securing cooperation let along an opportunity to collaborate
    Am delighted that i found this gem of a site via Lokesh Datta

  6. Adam Jacobson says:

    I think this has been my major challenge as my business has grown. I have to make a conscious effort to figure out what each person in the organization wants and needs to be effective and happy. As a consultant, I also have to figure out what each client wants and needs and that varies to an almost comic degree.

  7. Chris Young says:

    This post is dead on John! The Golden Rule is a well intentioned fallacy that has especially devastating results in the workplace. It is time we start following what many call the “Platinum Rule” and, as you suggest, treat other people the way the prefer to be treated. It is not easy, but the results can be amazing!

    I have featured your post with my reader in my Rainmaker ‘Fab Five’ blog picks of the week (found here: ) to warn my readers of the danger of treating others the way they themselves prefer to be treated.

    Be well!

  8. I have a similar post on When the Golden Rule isn't so Golden. One of my readers called it this difference between the 'golden rule' and the 'platinum rule'. I love it!

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  10. Bill Casey says:

    Good one, John! Like some of the other commenters above, Dr. Milton Bennett, one of the leading experts in intercultural communication calls this problem the “golden rule fallacy,” and he has even proposed stages that people go through in overcoming it. It’s a well-known model in that field; Peace Corps has a nice summary.

  11. Janie Steele says:

    I think you made a good point, however I think your point and the point of the “Golden Rule” are one in the same. Truth is we all want others to consider our thoughts, likes, interests etc. when interacting with us. We do have some common ground. Everyone wants honesty, trust, kindness, respect, goodwill, recognition,cooperation, and communication etc. Its how we do it that matters. We learn from our honest ineractions with others how to treat them. We all want to be treated according to our own values and likes. We can do the same with others. Janie

  12. J. Paul Everett says:

    A great teacher of mine from South Africa, a mining engineer, said “Do unto others as THEY WOULD you should do unto them.”

    Read it carefully, you will find it supports the argument herein.


  13. myrna says:

    What I am talking about is about being respectful, not nickel and diming ,and never owning up to their own behavior which may be counter productive.
    For example-if the employer uses manipulative or belittling tactics to make the employee work.
    I don’t think a manager would want to be treated in such a way.

    That is what I’m saying.
    People will work better if they feel they are
    respected and not being used for someone else’s gain or credit.

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