One of the attributes of intelligence we ascribe to ourselves is the ability to work out what other people might do. The next stage in that process, one might say, is to anticipate their needs and desires. If you know that someone gets very angry when you poke them with a sharp stick, then you tend to avoid that.
In modern life we anticipate other people’s thoughts and emotional reactions in many situations, but this is a guessing game. It also hurts when our well-meant actions are seen as having some malicious meaning we never intended them to have, and this can happen when the’re’s an ‘impedance’ failure between what we mean and how we’re interpreted.
The other part of the problem is that people rarely explain what they most want. Most of the reasons boil down to the fact we feel uncomfortable telling someone else how they should act. We most commonly communicate how we want to be treated by treating someone else that way. A simple example: some people make light of mistakes because they wish to pass off the mistake as not worth worrying about, but to others this laughter can be interpreted as laughing at the person who made the mistake. Unfortunately, hilarity and anger ensue.
The key here is that mismatch between what we expect and what the other person gives, and it can be very subtle. We might completely overlook someone holding back on a comment (because they feel a comment is too critical at that time) and comment ourselves, thus annoying the other person. There’s no sure-fire way to fix this problem instantly, but the most important thing we can do is to recognise those situations. Taking a step back and apologising for treating the other person the wrong way is a good way to start things back on track.
In this sense, the Golden Rule can be reworded as “do unto others as they want to be done by, as expressed in how they do unto you”. Doesn’t sound as attractive but it’s probably closer to the mark.