EVERYBODY knows The Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

It can be found in the early contributions to Confucianism, is mentioned in the Bible, and is a concept that is central to many of the world’s major religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism.

And it’s certainly a worthy aspiration. It reflects humility, modesty, empathy, values, ethics, decency.

But Tony Alessandra believes that when it comes to one-on-one communication and interpersonal communication, The Golden Rule very often backfires.

“The problem is, do you want to be treated the same way that I do?” said Alessandra, president of the Assessment Business Center and a founding partner in the Platinum Rule Group.

Alessandra, a New Yorker, told a story of moving to San Diego and inflicting his aggressive, hyperkinetic personality on the laid-back Californians. It was then that he said he needed to come up with an alternative mantra. He calls it The Platinum Rule: “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.”

“Basically, treat people the way they really want to be treated,” he said. “You have to talk in a way that makes it easy for people to listen. We need to manage and lead people in ways that internally motivate them to follow. We need to sell to people the way they are comfortable buying, not necessarily the way you are comfortable selling. It’s called adaptability. It’s your ability to change your approach and strategy depending on the situation and person you dealing with.”

What can you do to be more adaptable?

“It’d be great if a potential customer would tell you, ‘If you really want to sell to me, here’s what to do,’ ” he said. “People don’t verbalize it. But they’ll show you. All I ask you to do is open your eyes and ears. Listen to what people say, how they say it, and watch their body language. A person delivers a message on three channels simultaneously:

•  Verbal. “The words somebody speaks. If we videotaped my talk and gave everybody a transcribed version, that would be verbal.”

•  Vocal. “We give everybody a CD and MP3, and now you have the verbal with the vocal—the intonation, volume, the emphasis. Do you think you would get a lot more meaning from this talk, listening as opposed to just reading it?”

•  Visual. “Body language and facial expressions. Sometimes even when you emphasize something, maybe your body language says something that contradicts or reinforces it.”

He said that little things can change what you hear and how you interpret what you hear. For example, someone says, “Hey, nice shirt.” That can be a glowing compliment or nasty sarcasm, depending on the intonation.

“We’re basically listening for two things: Is the person coming across more open? Or guarded?” he said. “Guarded people do not share or feel thoughts readily or willingly. They play their cards close to the vest. They have a poker face. They want you to get right down to business. They don’t want a lot of social talk or schmoozing. They’re not huggers or kissers. They make decisions based on facts, logic, numbers, data, documentation.

“Open people readily, willingly show and share their feelings and thoughts, whether you want to know them or not. Any subject at any time is fair game. Their thoughts are like gumballs. They just roll out. They want to develop a relationship before they get down to business. They want to chat, socialize. They want to get physically closer. They’re huggers, kissers, touchers. They make decisions primarily on feelings, emotions, gut feel.”

He said adaptability can be crucial when you’re in a one-on-one conversation or networking on the trade floor.

“It’s no different than doing business in Europe, where each country has its own language and customs,” he said. “You cannot duplicate in Germany what you do in Italy. If you truly want to elevate your business, elevate your adaptability. You can’t speak the same to every person. In a world of increasing diversity, adaptability becomes more and more crucial.”

He said direct people are very impatient and will look for somebody to commiserate with if they encounter a long checkout line. If there is a gray area in a moral dilemma, they believe in just doing it because they’d rather beg forgiveness than seek permission. Indirect people keep it to themselves if they are presented with a situation where they have to wait. If there is a gray area, they ask permission.

There are four core styles:

•  D: Dominance/director/driver.

“Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing. Very rarely, if ever, will you see a ‘D’ play a game just for fun. They always want to know, ‘Where do I stand? How do I win?’ Of all four styles, D’s are arguably the worst listeners. But there’s a reason. They don’t have time and they already know the answer. I realized years ago it was my weakness and worked hard on improving. It doesn’t come natural to me. I’ve got to think about it. And that is adaptability—the ability to change your natural approach to fit the person you’re dealing with.

“What they do best: take charge, be competitive, get things done, ensure bottom-line results. What’s hard for them: repetitiveness; doing the same tasks over and over; being diplomatic, because they can come on strong.

“’D’ customers want to see the bottom-line impact of the solution: ‘What is it going to do for me?’ They look for solutions that save time or money. They prefer people who don’t waste their time, come prepared, and get to the point. They will hold you to every promise, whether verbal, written, or implied. They make fast decisions when they see benefits.”

•  I: Influence/socializer/expressive.

“Their desire is fun, excitement, applause, visibility, and recognition. As a result, they talk about their favorite subject: themselves. They have the gift of gab, the power of persuasion, the ability to get people more excited about their ideas than they are. They’re great brainstorming and will say, ‘That’s not a bad idea, but if we change it to this and cut it in half or move it in this direction, it would work.’

“What they do best: optimistic, inspirational, creative, impulsive, promoting ideas, opportunities, or people. What’s hard for them: formal reports, keeping detailed records. Here’s what they say to their sales manager: ‘Hey, you want me to sell or do reports? I can’t do both. Pick one.’ It’s hard for them to re-do anything once it’s been done.

“’I’ customers make spontaneous decisions when they’re excited. They see benefits before they’re pointed out. That’s why it’s great when you’re presenting a product, feature, or benefit. You might ask this style of person, ‘In addition to the benefit I pointed out, do you see any other benefits?’ Let them come up with benefits on their own and sell themselves. They often buy before they’re sold. That very frequently leads to post-purchase dissonance, or buyer’s remorse. They hate paperwork and want buying to be simple. They need a written reminder of agreements.”

•  S: Steadiness/relater/amiable.

“Their key desire is safety, security, close personal one-on-one relationships. They’re the glue that holds a team or a relationship together. Show me a marriage where one of spouses is an ‘S’ and I will show you a long marriage. Not necessarily happy, but long. They are by far the best listeners. They listen for content, facts, and feelings. They don’t like to rock the boat, so they tend to go along with things. They do not like conflict or arguments.

“What they do best: friendly and sensitive, creating group harmony, coordinating and cooperating. What’s hard for them: Competition. They do not like it, because somebody has to lose. ‘Can’t we be in a competition where everybody wins?’ They don’t like making big decisions and they dislike change.

“‘S’ customers like service relationships based on trust. They develop trust before you make the sale. They tend to make decisions collaboratively, so if a decision you’re asking them to make affects anybody else in their company, they will want to get those people’s opinions before making decisions. They’re turned off by aggressive, pushy people. They’re fiercely loyal once trust is established. They need gentle guidance to make decisions.”

•  C: Conscientious/thinker/analytical.

“Their key desire is order, accuracy, precision, perfection. Their motto: Everything in its place, and a place for everything. These are great planners, problem solvers, organizers. They’re great at creating systems and arguably the most intellectual: Michelangelo, da Vinci, Einstein. If you want something done right, give it to a ‘C.’ But if you want it done on time, think again, because they procrastinate until its perfect, often suffering from paralysis by analysis.

“What they do best: quick to think but slow to speak; organizing and planning. What’s hard for them: unpredictability and disorganization; and working with others—they prefer to work alone, because others don’t have the same high-quality standards as they do.

“ ‘C’ customers need time and data to make decisions. Sometimes they get lost in unimportant details and need to be re-focused. They respond well to reducing/eliminating risk. They want you to exhibit great expertise. They view too much enthusiasm with skepticism. A classic, backslapping, outgoing sales person turns them off.”

He gives these recommendations in style adaptability:

•  When you are the ‘D’: allow others to do things without excessive interference; participate in the group without expecting to always be in command; praise and give credit for jobs well done.

•  Dealing with ‘D’ customers: keep your relationship businesslike; focus on the big picture; cover basic steps/ high points quickly; discover their goals; give options with costs/benefits; and respond quickly with solutions to problems.

•  When you are the ‘I’: write things down and work from a list, so you’ll prioritize activities and focus on tasks in order of importance; get the less appealing tasks of the day over with early in the day; pay attention to your time management.

•  Dealing with ‘I’ customers: show more animation and enthusiasm; skip details and boring material; be slow to criticize and quick to praise; make them look good with others; summarize in writing who is to do what, when, where, how, and why; and save them effort and complications.

•  When you are the ‘S’: stretch by taking on more and different duties beyond your comfort level; speed up your actions by getting into some projects more quickly; desensitize yourself so you aren’t negatively affected by others’ feelings.

•  Dealing with ‘S’ customers: develop the relationship and actively listen; explore their current situation/networks; use a pleasant and patient approach; provide guidance/personal assurances; show how changes will benefit them/ others; and practice hands-on follow-through.

•  When you are the ‘C’: modify your criticism (whether spoken or unspoken) of others’ work; check only the critical things (as opposed to everything); engage in more water-cooler interaction.

• Dealing with ‘C’ customers: avoid too much social talk; proceed slowly and stop at key places to check; provide options and proof with pros/cons; provide written guarantees and proof; give them time and space to think; and deliver on promises. ♦

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