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Etiquette = Golden Rule + Platinum Rule

While I am jogging on a treadmill, I pass the time by listening to episodes of the “Awesome Etiquette” podcast, which features Lizzie Post and Dan Post Senning. They answer questions, talk about events in their lives and interview guests—all with an underpinning of etiquette advice. In the eighth episode, Dan introduces the Platinum Rule, something I had not heard of and was fascinated by.

Dan started with a question we often ask at the start of a business etiquette seminar: “When I say the word etiquette, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind?” Answers almost always include: “manners,” “politeness,” and even “the Golden Rule.” The association of the Golden Rule with etiquette makes sense: Do to others as you would have them do to you, i.e. treat people the way you would like to be treated.

The difficulty with that advice is it is all about you, not the other person. Maybe the other person wouldn’t want to be treated the way you want to be treated. Consider for a moment that Janie is accustomed to using some coarse language in conversation. She’s talking with Maureen who can be offended by coarse language. Following the Golden Rule, Janie might feel emboldened to use some coarse language because she is treating Maureen the way she would have Maureen treat her. But that doesn’t work for Maureen.

Despite this catch, Dan points out that many people view the Golden Rule as being at the heart of etiquette. And then he explains that there is a rule that is one step up from the Golden Rule: “I recently learned from another trainer, a Dr. (Tony) Alessandra, about the idea of the Platinum Rule. The idea behind the Platinum Rule is you don’t just treat other people the way you would want to be treated, you treat them the way they would want to be treated. The idea is that in an increasingly diverse and complicated world it’s not enough to simply apply your standard to everybody that you meet. You have to make an effort to think about where the other people are coming from. You have to take into account other peoples’ perspectives and backgrounds when you’re thinking about how to treat them.”

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Nice sentiment, but that probably still doesn’t work for Maureen, as she is not likely to start using coarse language just because the Platinum Rule suggests she should treat Janie the way Janie would want to be treated. For Maureen and Janie it really becomes important to apply both rules to develop a solution to conversing with each other, one in which Maureen understands and excuses the occasional slip in language by Janie; Janie thinks before she speaks as she respects Maureen’s sensibilities; and Maureen holds fast to her own avoidance of coarse language.

If you have a business etiquette question, please email it to [email protected]

Since 2004, Peter Post has tackled readers’ questions in The Boston Sunday Globe’s weekly business etiquette advice column, Etiquette at Work. Post is the co-author of “The Etiquette Advantage in Business” and conducts business etiquette seminars across the country. In October 2003 his book “Essential Manners For Men” was released and quickly became a New York Times best seller. He is also the author of “Essential Manners for Couples,” “Playing Through–A Guide to the Unwritten Rules of Golf,” and co-author of “A Wedding Like No Other.” Post is Emily Post’s great-grandson. His media appearances include “CBS Sunday Morning,” CBS’s “The Early Show,” NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America,” and “Fox News.” Follow Post: @PeterLPost.

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