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Golden Rule Fails to Shine at Work

TEDx Winnipeg Patrick O'Reilly

When it comes to workplace interactions, the Golden Rule has lost its glint.

That’s the opinion of Winnipeg-based executive coach Patrick O’Reilly, who presented his leadership philosophy to the audience at TEDxWinnipeg at the Tom Hendry Warehouse Theatre on June 4.

O’Reilly, a certified executive coach and president of Padraig Coaching & Consulting Inc., formerly worked as chief federal negotiator to create the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and as the project’s first acting CEO until 2011. O’Reilly says the Golden Rule and its ethical code of treating others the way we’d like to be treated fails when it comes to governing workplace relationships. It assumes others have the same perceptions and goals as we do.

“You can start making changes right now in how you interact with people by ditching the Golden Rule,” O’Reilly says. “The first thing we do is we start paying attention to individuals. No more generalizing, no more grouping. We pay attention to each individual person.”

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O’Reilly tells the story of a leader thinking how best to motivate her team members. She found that the same action can have the opposite effect on different staff members, motivating some but stifling others.

“Her example was to recognize people publicly in the group when they do good things,” O’Reilly says.

But while some staffers were elated by the attention, others can feel embarrassed or singled out unnecessarily. Instead they would prefer to be acknowledged one-on-one for their good work.

“Even when it seems obvious, there may be some other person’s perspective that’s helpful to think about,” O’Reilly says.

Citing American businessman and author Stephen R. Covey, O’Reilly underscores the importance of listening with the intent to understand, rather than with the sole aim of replying.

“If you’re leading a group of people, you adapt your leadership style to each of them individually. So you lead the team, but — again we come back to it — you engage the individual,” he says.

“It means adapting your style, which is difficult, but the return on investment can be huge for you.”

O’Reilly says realizing others may not want to be treated exactly as you do can improve all relationships.

“Interacting with others in a way they need you to, in the way they see the world to at least some degree regardless of how you see the world, can change all of our relationships,” O’Reilly says. “Imagine how that could change your workplace. Imagine how it could change your volunteer roles. Imagine how it could change your home life. Then imagine if everyone was doing that for you and you’re doing it for everyone else. Saying the Golden Rule is wrong is counterintuitive, but it’s my proposal that counterintuitive thinking can change our world.”

MTS is a Silver sponsor of TEDxWinnipeg.

Did you attend TEDxWinnipeg and Patrick O’Reilly’s presentation? Tell us your thoughts below.

Jason Halstead

Jason is a Winnipeg-based journalist and photographer who has been published across Canadian media.

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