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If the Golden Rule doesn’t work

The Golden Rule is often our first way of judging how we should respond to a situation, but it’s not always the best way.
4 min read

I learned a valuable lesson about the Golden Rule recently. My sister’s husband died suddenly and, upon hearing this news, several friends called to say they were on their way over to offer their support. They did what they hoped others would do for them after such a tragedy. But my sister asked her daughter to call these friends and beg them not to come. My sister was more comfortable with a note sent via Facebook or text. What my sister wanted was not the same thing as what some of her friends would have wanted. The Golden Rule just didn’t work here.

For another example, I look at my mother and her best friend, Julie. Julie is always calling Mom and suggesting that they go to a concert, luncheon, or other event. Julie tells me that she worries that Mom doesn’t see enough people. Mom tells me that she’s not really interested in these events Julie takes her to, but she knows that they are important to Julie. Mom really enjoys the drive together and Julie enjoys the socializing at the event. Mom follows a modified rule in which she does what she knows the other person would like and finds a way to get her needs met, too.

The Golden Rule is often our first way of judging how we should respond to a situation, but it’s not always the best way. Consider this team. The manager, Emily, has always wanted to be recognized by being given opportunities for training or new opportunities. So she rewards her hardworking team with a day of training on a new tool that should help them stay informed and on-task, plus it’s a tool the entire organization might be using soon so they will be the trailblazers.

In Emily’s mind, her team should feel energized and excited by this training. They should see it as an investment in their careers. But they don’t. Why?

Jacob is confused. He thought the team was doing well and didn’t need additional training. He’d really like for the rest of the company to hear about their accomplishments. He’d prefer a group photo and a write-up in the company newsletter. Maybe with a chance for his team to teach others.

Kayla isn’t upset about the training but really wishes someone would notice how hard she works to keep the team functioning. A handwritten note from her manager would mean so much to her.

Others on the team have their own reactions and Emily has to admit that what’s good for the goose, in this case, isn’t as good for the gander. It doesn’t have to do with gender, but with personality. Everything DiSC® reminds us that relying on the Golden Rule won’t always get the results we want. What motivates you might not motivate me.

Treat others how you would want to be treated, or treat others how they want to be treated?

Managers, leaders, and team members can benefit from learning about the needs of others. While there are shared values such as respect, trust, or fairness, the priorities of people can vary significantly. It’s important to keep this in mind and not dismiss or ignore the needs of others just because you don’t share them.

Needs and preferences in the DiSC® model

Knowing a person’s style can give you insights into how they want to be treated. The following preferences and priorities can be used to help guide you. And remember that asking someone directly about how they want to be treated often works best.

I can do it

What’s important and motivating?

Motivation is the desire to do things, or the reasons one has for acting or behaving in a particular way. We like to feel motivated. Here are tips for thinking about motivating people with various DiSC® styles. Since people are a blend of all four styles, we can be motivated by actions listed under styles other than our own.


  • They enjoy logical processes and defined standards.
  • They will appreciate being allowed time for independent work and time to process.
  • Their work can be intrinsically motivating as long as they understand how it will be judged. As their teammate, they will value your judgments because you’re in a position to understand the specifics of what they’ve accomplished.


  • They seek opportunities for collaboration and tend to focus on group goals.
  • Then enjoy structure, security, and encouragement.
  • They like to know what’s expected of them and help everyone get to their desired destination.


  • They desire opportunities for self-expression and some time in the limelight.
  • They’d really appreciate it if you could reduce the number of routine tasks they’re responsible for.
  • They need time to socialize and enjoy celebrating team achievements.


  • They expect to have some control over their environment.
  • They are encouraged by competition and independent work.
  • They need to understand the big picture and be able to look toward the finish line.

How to support and reward

We all enjoy some sort of recognition of our effort, service, or achievement. It doesn’t have to be extra pay, a gift, or assistance. And it can come from a peer. Here are some tips on what people with different styles might value most.


  • Recognize the quality of their work.
  • Compliment them privately.
  • Keep them informed.
  • Provide opportunities for them to build expertise.
  • Give them time and space in which to absorb new experiences.


  • Make them feel like a vital part of the team.
  • Offer sincere praise privately.
  • Encourage them to challenge themselves.
  • Show your confidence in their abilities.
  • Offer to take care of a task with them.


  • Praise them publicly.
  • Acknowledge their energy and enthusiasm.
  • Give them opportunities to shine.
  • Offer to take care of tasks requiring attention to detail or that are repetitive.
  • Let them develop and lead a team activity.


  • Give them more autonomy and responsibility.
  • Give them credit for specific contributions.
  • Let them take the reins and help them feel in control of a difficult situation.
  • Encourage healthy competition.
  • Provide new challenges.

Following the Golden Rule is a good start to improving interpersonal communication, but remembering individual DiSC styles and treating each person with customized attention turns the Golden Rule into something more empathetic. It shows that you value someone enough to consider their priorities, not just your own. Your team will function most productively if everyone’s needs and priorities on a team are met.

Thanks everyone!

Kristeen Bullwinkle

Steeped in Everything DiSC since 2010. Strongly inclined CD style. Leadership style and EQ mindset: resolute. Believes strongly in the serial comma.

Certifications from Wiley:
Everything DiSC, The Five Behaviors of a Cohesive Team

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