The Golden Rule may be a powerful force, but it does have a downside.

As a general rule, the Golden Rule is hard to beat. Most every culture and faith has a variation on the theme of “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”

But the problem with other people is that they are, well, other people. They're different. How they want to be treated might not be anywhere close to how you want to be treated in the same situation. So how can you expect to provide service, for example, when you're treating every customer in the same way you'd want to be treated as a customer?

You can't, not by following the Golden Rule, says business consultant Tony Allessandra. You can, however, by following what he calls the “Platinum Rule.” The Platinum Rule does the Golden Rule one better by taking into consideration the other's perspective: “Do unto others as they would have done unto them.”

Allessandra gave a keynote address at this year's Home Comfort Training Convention in Las Vegas, a biennial event Uponor puts on for its radiant contractor-customers. To sum up the Platinum Rule, he related a personal story. First of all, Allessandra didn't have to wear an “I-heart-New York” T-shirt for the more than 350 contractors to figure out where he was from. His accent and manner of presentation pegged this guy as a hard-charging, tough-talking New Yorker.

Early in his teaching career, Allessandra treated people like New Yorkers. Which was fine and dandy, he told the Wet Heads, since he was in New York at the time, surrounded by New Yorkers. No doubt it came in handy, too.

But then he moved to Southern California and realized he had to change.

“I was treating people from San Diego the same way that I treated New Yorkers,” he says. “How effective do you think that was?”

Four Styles

Over the course of his afternoon seminar, Allessandra presented four styles by which most people present themselves to the world. While he didn't deny that anything as complex as human behavior can always be understood in this manner, it is one way to consider how other people tick. When a busy tech needs to effectively go about his day, paying attention to how customers act might help the tech treat them to the service they desire. Of course, since the tech is part of the process, it helps if he realizes what type of style he is, too.

The four styles are based on the answers to two simple questions:

  • Is the person more direct or indirect?

  • Is the person more supportive or controlling?

The answer to the first question tells you what you see and hear. Think of it more as the content of what they say and do. Direct people are fast-paced, type-A personalities who tell rather than ask. They make decisions quickly, and quickly grow impatient if things don't go their way. Indirect people are the polar opposite: They ask rather than tell. They have the patience of a saint and may have an opinion, but keep it to themselves. If you want a decision, be prepared to wait.

The answer to the second questions tells you why they're doing what you see and hear. Think of it more as the intent of what they say and do. Supportive people are open-minded, have their insides on their outsides, and value how you think and feel about an issue in equal proportion with how they think and feel about it. Controlling types are “Just the facts, ma'am” people who just want to get something done no matter what you think about it.

Figuring out where people fall on these scales tells you which one of the four styles you are dealing with. (See illustration.) For example, you have a 50 percent chance of guessing that a person who talks a lot (direct more than indirect) is either a Director or Socializer. Both are animated, fast-paced and energetic. Now, to narrow it down between the two, consider what they intend to do (or have you do) with all this talk. The talker who reminds you of Gen. George Patton would be a Director (more controlling than supporting). If instead, the talker reminds you of Jerry Seinfeld, then he'll be a Socializer (more supporting than controlling).

Let's look at how the four styles might present themselves during a service call, and what a tech can do to adapt.


This might be the easiest style to detect. A Director customer tells you in no uncertain terms what the problem is. Don't be surprised if he's already gone online and found out exactly what he needs, too, regardless of what you think and without even a “hello.” He wants this job done pronto and will check up on you every five minutes, and might even look over your shoulder to make sure it's done the right way - which, by the way, is his way.

However, chances are he'll be too busy telling his wife how to bake a cake, his son how to bunt and still make it to first, his daughter how to play Mozart's Piano Sonata No. 11 in A major, the 1-year-old how to stand up straight, and his neighbor how to mow his lawn because he's doing it wrong. After all, he took the day off to be here, and he's going to make sure everybody gets things done.

You can't wait to get away from this stubborn know-it-all, although you have to admit, he does know what he wants.

What To Do: Emphasize the bottom line. Tell Directors what your product/service will do for them in practical terms and be prepared to offer facts and figures. Just don't get too long-winded explaining it all, since they'll easily get bored. They'll appreciate options, so a “good-better-best” scenario would be a plus.

Presented with enough information, Directors will quickly reach a decision. While they won't be interested in getting to know you, they will expect you to look and act professionally, and be on time.


Talk, talk, talk, talk, talk. The Socializer customer has an idea or two (or three) on how to fix the problem, but no doubt will forget about them as he goes to get you a beer. He knows you'll get the job done, but as long as you're in his house, then work should be fun. He'll talk to you some more, then go and do 10 other things around the house, but quickly lose interest in all of them and come back to you, since at least there's something going on here.

Don't be surprised if he tries to fix you up with his sister; after all, he worries about her and just wants her to be happy, but she has relationship issues, primarily caused by growing up with this guy as a brother. After you're done, he'll be sure to tell you what a great job you did.

You can't wait to get away from this nice guy, although you have to admit, he is a nice guy.

What To Do: Emphasize sizzle more than steak. Socializers are likely to be sold on how something looks, rather than just on what it does. If you can paint a word picture of what you do, all the better. If it's something behind the wall or in the basement, talk about the “big picture” - how the product or service may make a Socializer live an easier life. They'll appreciate choices, particularly anything innovative, but they won't care for too many details. They'll want to get to know you - and you them.

In other words, there's nothing “small” about small talk with these folks. They're unlikely to need a lot of time to think it over before reaching their own decision.


You might not realize it, but the Relater customer has been doing business with your company since his own dad did business with the company owner's dad. You'd really have to screw up big time to lose this customer. And why would you do that, anyway? Finally, here's a customer that will take the time to listen to what you have to say, question you more about the details, support what you have to say, and ask what steps you need to take to finish.

Don't be surprised, however, if Relaters have to check with someone else to get the OK, particularly if it's going be a big disruption. If it's a big job and there's a significant other not at home, then you're coming back after they check with the SO.

You can't wait to get away from this laidback, indecisive slowpoke, but you have to admit, you do still like him.

What To Do: Emphasize no-surprise relationships. These folks are close to Socializers - just slower, steadier versions. They appreciate low-key, courteous service. Intense, overbearing people are the only people unwelcome in a Relater's home.

Be prepared to offer step-by-step advice, proven procedures and time to think it over, since they want to know whether they can depend on you. Once you've established trust, Relaters aren't likely to ever change plumbers. Of course, chances are you aren't new to any Relater customers.

To continue providing them top-notch service, consider offering them a service agreement, since Relaters will love the routine. The only selling problem you have will be getting them to say “No” rather than “Yes.” If they aren't interested in a product or service, they'll never have the heart to tell you. Take excuses and delays as a “No.”


I think, therefore, I am … a pain in the butt. That's the motto of the Thinker customer. Granted, he doesn't realize he's a pain to deal with, but that's only because he doesn't think about it, which makes it the only thing he doesn't think about. Don't be surprised if he doesn't really care what you think about the problem. He just wants it done - but not before having an opportunity to think it through first. So he will ask questions - lots and lots of questions - about specific details, although many of his questions may not have much to do with the matter at hand. After a couple of tangents, he'll expect you to go away, since thinking is a solitary function. In the end, all he wants to do is make an accurate, “right” decision in the same logical fashion as a computer, albeit a really, really slow computer. Think Spock without the ears or wit.

You can't wait to get away from this picky, overly cautious robot, although you have to admit, he was thorough and disciplined.

What To Do: Emphasize details. These serious, analytical folks really can't get enough information about your product or service, sometimes going overboard on nonessentials. So it will help to compare key features and benefits in as logical a fashion as you can. If they apply, charts and graphs are a big plus. They love knowledge, so take time to explain how things work. They hate risks, so any guarantees and extended warranties should help.

Above all, be accurate and more formal than you may naturally be. They're turned off by anyone who seems too direct or too enthusiastic, so leave your emotions in the truck.