Playing By the Rules – or Not!

rulesOne interesting part of communication with other people is coming to an understanding of their internal rule structure.  Knowing how a person structures rules of behavior helps to understand their willingness and ability to manage themselves and others.


There are 4 rule structure patterns that people commonly fall into:

                    My rules for me/my rules for you – “practice what you preach”

                    My rules for me/your rules for you – “different strokes for different folks”

                    No rules for me/my rules for you – “do as I say, not as I do”

                    My rules for me/period – “my way or the highway”

Sound like a lot of similar words – what does it all boil down to? Basically, our internal rule structure determines to a large extent how we interact with people in general.

Do you get annoyed with people when you do what you’re supposed to do, but they don’t play by the same rules?  “What makes you think that you’re above the law?” – My rules for me/my rules for you.

The manager who doesn’t make expectations clear, because he is reluctant to tell others what to do.  “You do what you think is best, and let me take a look at it after you’re done.” – My rules for me/your rules for you.

How about that supervisor who comes in late every day, but makes it a point to mention to you when you return late from your lunch or break? – No rules for me/my rules for you.

That terrible neighbor who plays loud music at 2:00am is so inconsiderate of others’ trying to sleep! – My rules for me/who cares about you.

The ‘my/my’ person is typically found at work and are good managers, if they don’t go overboard with telling people what to do while delivering their expertise.  Most people (75%) follow this pattern.  In the extreme, this pattern has some very judgmental qualities, when people are overly critical when someone does things differently/’wrongly’.

The ‘my/your’ pattern is the next most common (15% of the overall population).  These people feel that it’s arrogant to tell others what to do, ‘live and let live’ is their motto, since everyone is different and unique.  They can be bad managers but good facilitators, mediators, coaches, counselors, etc. since they can see both sides of things and remain neutral.

7% fall into the ‘no/my’ corner – traditionally middle managers who don’t make the rules, but are tasked with enforcing them to the rank and file.

The ‘my/whatever’ pattern is noticeable in selfish people who have little concern about the effects of their behavior on others.  They don’t see or care about the impact of their actions to others and are best when they work alone.


It’s 3:00am and you’re driving in your car coming into a 6-way intersection; your light ahead just turned red – you see no other cars in sight coming into the intersection – do you drive through?

If “Yes, I drive through, and you do whatever you want” – My rules for me/your rules for you.

If “Yes, I drive through, why would anyone waste time waiting for it to turn green?”  – My rules for me/my rules for you

If “I don’t know what I would do, but you should stop or you risk getting a ticket” – No rules for me/my rules for you.

If “Absolutely I drive through.” – My rules for me/No thought about you.


COMMUNICATION TAKEAWAY:  Knowing someone’s rule pattern on behavior helps to figure out their willingness to manage their own behavior and the behavior of others.  Listen and they will communicate to you their rule pattern, which may be different in different environments. (i.e. commonly ‘my/my ‘at work and ‘my/your’ at home – if the home relationship is good, that is!) and in different situations (i.e. dealing with younger versus older children). 

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