Superhero Series: Empathy, Active Listening, and The Platinum Rule

In Blog, Diversity & Inclusion, Superhero Series by Rachel Murray

Supergirl continues to be a treasure trove of lessons on inclusion in the workplace. In the same episode referred to in Part One of this series, Supergirl’s sister Alex is the new Director of the Department of Extranormal Operations (‘DEO’) and she’s managing a new employee, Braniac 5. This new employee is not only an alien (extranormal), but has replaced an incredibly good friend, Winn, with whom she was very close (saved lives multiple times with, provided emotional support, you know, the normal TV show hero stuff).

Like Winn, Braniac is brilliant and kind, always willing and very able to help. But he’s new to this world and is still learning its customs, mannerisms, and idioms. He is fascinated by this new world and embraces it. But Alex is struggling with him, especially now that she’s been put in this new and incredibly challenging role as his manager. Any time she asks him to do something, he’s incredibly literal and that usually backfires. Sometimes he tries to anticipate her needs, but it ends up upsetting her. At one point, she’s so frustrated with him, she tells him he shouldn’t even breathe without her specific consent. She just needs someone to understand what she’s asking for and execute it, just the way she had with Winn. They just got each other. She barely needed to ask for anything because he could anticipate her needs, as they were so close.

One night Alex talks with her sister about how annoying Braniac is. “Why can’t he be easier to work with?” The reality is that working with people who are different from you isn’t always easy. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth putting in the effort. As the season goes on, Alex learns to appreciate Braniac.

As you lead a diverse team, you will inevitably encounter a similar scenario. You want results fast and to work with someone who fundamentally understands and can anticipate your needs. You’re likely working under some pretty intense pressure, so the last thing you want to do is take the time to understand how your employee best works. But if you choose to do so, you might find that the rewards are great.

Below are three related concepts to help you think about how to working more inclusively with employees who are different from you:

  1. Move from the golden rule to the platinum rule. The golden rule says, “Treat others as you wish to be treated”. The platinum rule says, “Treat others as they wish to be treated.” This fundamental shift in thinking can have drastically positive effects on the relationships with your employees. By understanding how best they can work, you will set them up for success, as well as your team. Here’s an example. You may be a highly extroverted person and want to have a lot of face time with your employee. They may work better using digital ways to communicate, like Slack or email. If you see that they’re able to be more productive this way, consider changing up your style. This doesn’t mean that there’s an expectation that you will never have face-to-face meetings with them, but understand that they may not be bringing their best selves in this way.
  2. Actively listen when your employees are speaking with you. It’s easy for us to get in our heads when others are speaking, or try to anticipate what they’re about to say. Instead, pay close attention to what they’re saying. Consider repeating what they’re saying back to them to be sure that you both are on the same page.
  3. Empathize with your employees. Obviously you can’t know everything that they’re going through, but by attempting to put yourself in their shoes, you may be able to have greater compassion for their needs, and it might be easier for you to implement the platinum rule.

To reiterate, this work isn’t easy (even Alex struggles, and she is an incredible leader and she struggles), but it’s important for maintaining an inclusive work culture. Implementing the platinum rule, actively listening, and empathizing should lead to a more productive and positive work environment and ultimately make you and your employees happier.


What have we missed? What have you done to ensure your employees feel heard? Feel free to share your thoughts with us on Twitter or email us directly!

If you’re interested in bringing a workshop on creating an inclusive work culture, contact us to learn more.