Why the Golden Rule Is Wrong

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In our culture, there are only a precious few quotations that almost every American can recite. The only three that come to my mind immediately are The Pledge of Allegiance, the first line of The Gettysburg Address, and the Golden Rule: "do unto others as you would have done unto you."

It's hard to argue with the Golden Rule. It conveys the simple, yet powerful proposition that others are just as deserving of respect and consideration as we believe ourselves to be. If something annoys or offends us, it's a solid bet that others would feel the same way. Adherence to the Golden Rule is, therefore, indispensable when it comes to preserving relationships -- whether we're talking about designing websites, posting comments on social media, or just engaging people in conversation.

The problem, however, is that when it comes to customer satisfaction, user experience, and building relationships, the Golden Rule is wrong. The fact is that it doesn't matter what you would have done unto you. If you want to reach your clients, what matters is what they would have done unto them.

Not two days ago, I had a conversation with a client who reminded me that, at least in one specific instance where she was concerned, I had forgotten that point. My point of failure, as it is with so many people, was my invoice. It wasn't that she was complaining about the bottom line; she just didn't know how or why we got there.

My invoice included time entries relating to the drafting of a Security Agreement. Now, don't get me wrong, she needed the Security Agreement. The creation of a security interest was one of the important safeguards we had put in place to protect her. The problem was that she, like most of the population, didn't know what a Security Agreement was.

As for me, I understood the bill perfectly. Each time entry stated precisely what we did and how long we took to do it. But I wasn't composing the invoice for me. I was composing it for her. And in that, I failed miserably.

The only consolation I can take is that I'm not alone. All but the most well-crafted websites are designed with the company, rather than the user in mind. The company may be interested in the educational background of their people and their manufacturing or delivery methods. The public isn't. What the public wants to know is "can you solve my problem." As the saying goes, people don't buy drills; they buy holes.

If I'm shopping at Home Depot, for example, I can peruse the aisles of power drills and learn all about torque, and power, and battery life. That's all well and good, but that's what's important to the manufacturer. I just want to know whether this is the thing I have to buy in order to hang the cabinets in my garage.

Recently, I spoke on the Business 3.0 podcast, with Doug Sandler, author of the Amazon Bestseller Nice Guys Finish First. Doug has taken "nice" and distilled it to a series of business development and success principles that go well beyond saying "please" and "thank you." In his book, Doug talks about communicating with people in the way they need to be reached. He stresses putting things in their language and working to see the world through their eyes, rather than just through your own.

Why do this? Because as Joe Natoli, author of Think First, once told me years ago, you are not your clients. They don't look like you, talk like you, act like you or think like you. If you want to succeed, you better learn to talk the way they need to listen.