At some point during his career with the FBI, Robin Dreeke abandoned the “golden rule” — the old adage that you should treat others as you would like to be treated.
He replaced it with another guideline, this one from author and speaker Tony Alessandra, called the “platinum rule“: Treat others as they want to be treated. Talk in terms of what’s important to them, in a way they can readily understand, and they’ll be more inclined to give you what you want.
Dreeke is a Naval Academy graduate, a former Marine, the former head of a federal behavioral analysis program, and a current FBI agent; he recently co-authored “The Code of Trust” with Cameron Stauth.
In the book, Dreeke and Stauth share the system Dreeke developed for implementing the platinum rule most effectively: The Communications Style Inventory.
The system boils down to four different communication styles. Your mission is to figure out which type of person you’re talking to, and to use that knowledge to guide the conversation. The four types are:
- Direct, task-oriented
- Direct, people-oriented
- Indirect, task-oriented
- Indirect, people-oriented
When he visited the Business Insider office in August, Dreeke said it’s generally more helpful to figure out whether someone is people- or task-oriented.
If someone’s more people-oriented, “they use a lot more personalization, a lot more use of pronouns, a lot more personal stories and anecdotes. If you want to have a great conversation with and engage someone like this, use those types of things.”
On the other hand, Dreeke said, someone who’s more task-oriented is “looking more at the process, procedures, and how to do something rather than who to do it with.”
The second step is to assess whether someone’s a direct or an indirect communicator.
Direct communicators, according to the book, think while they speak. Dreeke and Stauth write: “Direct speakers like the give-and-take of verbal exchange, tend to be open to the idea of others, and feel that they truly benefit if someone changes their mind about something.”
Indirect communicators generally think before they speak. Dreeke and Stauth write: “They sincerely believe that they are being respectful of you when they consider their words carefully, without wasting your time in the needless give-and-take that often ends exactly where it started.”
Dreeke and Stauth are quick to note that an individual’s communication style can change — and in fact, “sticking straight to one style will decrease your ability to inspire widespread trust.”
Let’s say you think your boss is a direct, task-oriented communicator. It might be wise to send them an outline of steps you’re taking to finish a project — and not to be insulted when they engage you in debate around whether that particular process is the best.
If your boss is an indirect, people-oriented communicator, you might want to sit them down and explain why you’re passionate about your current project — and to listen carefully to every word in their feedback.
The idea is less to pigeonhole people and more to remember that not everyone is exactly like you. If you want to encourage people to like you and to trust you, it’s best to speak their native language.