It doesn't mean you should be a pushover, though.

Advertisement

When you think of the golden rule—"treat others how you would want to be treated"—you might assume it only refers to treating friends, family, and acquaintances with love and respect. However, this ethos should permeate all areas of your life, including your career.

I was made aware of this when I was at work one day, sitting in a conference room and waiting for a meeting to start. A colleague leaned over and said, "The advice I always give to others is to be a pleasure to work with." This really got me thinking. You’re taught from childhood to play nice, be polite, act accordingly, and treat others the way you want to be treated. But it was the universality of these lessons that really hit me that day. It’s not just about treating your friends with respect but your coworkers and managers, too.

According to Heather Freiser, VP of content at Likeable Media, “Having good relationships with anyone will benefit you. It’s important to be kind and make a good impression.” Even though you may not consider your coworkers your friends or even see eye-to-eye with them, the truth is they're a part of your daily life.

Having a solid professional network is such an asset, too, whether you’re looking for advice, a new position, or to start your own business. Think about it: Would you recommend a coworker for a new job or to a new company if you had constantly argued, butted heads, and generally didn’t get along? Probably not. But if someone challenged you in a good way and made an effort to be kind to you, even if you weren’t the best of friends, chances are you would go out on a limb for them in the future. According to a study conducted by Olivet Nazarene University, 59% of people have stated they have recruited a friend to work at their company.

While being genuinely kind to others will create a reputation that you're a pleasure to work with, it doesn’t mean that you should be a pushover or never share your thoughts or opinions on important matters; it means learning how to disagree in a respectful way. In Freiser’s case, she worked for someone early in her career who didn’t completely respect her or her time. Then, years later, this former manager applied for a job she was hiring for. The lesson? Treat everyone kindly. “One of those people could be your boss one day,” Freiser says. And she's right. 

But that’s not to say that sticking to the golden rule comes easy. Early in my career, I was quick to let my emotions and temper rule my actions. Instead of taking a step back and a deep breath, I would get angry and once even fired off a not-so-nice email to a manager. (Of course, this was before I was enlightened to the “be kind” ethos in a professional setting.) While I was let off the hook for my indiscretion, looking back I wish I had adopted this mindset from the very beginning. But what happened between my kindergarten teacher reminding everyone to follow the golden rule and my first professional job? 

Obviously the actions of a 5-year-old and a 22-year-old have very different implications, but the root of ethics still applies. Just like how you learned to share as a child, learning how to be kind while disagreeing is a skill that can help you advance in your career. Freiser says the majority of her hires come from her broader network. “It’s the way the hiring world works,” she says. 

Not only will it earn you respect as someone who is a free thinker and can adequately express themself, but it will also prevent you from burning professional bridges because you didn't let your emotions take hold. And this holds true no matter what stage of your career you’re in. As you advance in your career, Freiser says, it’s so much easier to feel like kindness isn’t as important—but that is far from the truth. Showing kindness shouldn't just be an entry-level behavior; it should be a human behavior.

And, yes, it’s even harder to treat others with respect when they aren’t reciprocating, but remember: It always pays to take the high road. You want to be the person they remember as being polished, professional, and a joy to be around, someone who isn't afraid to stand up for themselves in a respectable manner. My suggestion? The next time you're trying to figure out how to handle a work situation, just channel your inner Michelle Obama and say, “When they go low, we go high.” I promise you won't regret it.