Applying Martin Buber’s Dialogue Philosophy to Create a Value-Based Business

Businesses exist as a series of connections - with customers, your team, and with yourself. Martin Buber's philosophy of human connection and dialogue can be applied to business and show how you can be a value-driving business.

Sammy Rubin - 14 October 2020

I came across philosopher Martin Buber’s work in my late 20’s and it has had a profound impact on my own approach to leadership and business.

Buber was well known for his philosophy of dialogue in understanding how we relate to one another as humans.  For Buber, the two ways of relating to anyone in the world was through the dialogue of  I-It and I-Thou.

In the I-It relationship, we relate to each other as an object and a means of getting something accomplished. This is very true in business where our interactions can be based on tasks and outcomes.

For the I-Thou or I-You relationship, we move away from the object and focus on the person. This is where we see the individual as a whole person - where we are transparent, bold and vulnerable.

“I believe that the key to creating society that is nourishing, empowering a healing for everyone lies in how we relate to one another.” - Martin Buber

How does I-It and I-Thou relate to insurance?

The insurance industry has long been a commodity, a product that is the same no matter who supplies it and is differentiated based on price. I-It is a commodity-based culture where the insurance is a means to an end - an object.

I believe we have an opportunity to shift the insurance industry form a I-It to I-You where we bring a relationship that creates value and is authentic and built on trust. We move from a commodity product to a value-based product, embracing a culture where we recognise the needs of the person in front of us.

How can you apply Martin Buber’s philosophy to our business?

Let’s explore some of the fundamental questions:

(1) Our relationship with our customers

Do we treat our customers as “partners in dialogue” and see them for the value they bring rather than just the transaction they deliver? Are we open and honest and do we build a connection based on trust?  

(2) Our relationship with our team

How do we relate to your team and as a community? Do we relate as a I (it) or as a Thou (You) where there is mutual respect, vulnerability and active listening?  

(3) Our relationship with ourselves

How do we relate to ourselves? Do we see ourselves as an object that does the tasks to get the job done or do we value ourselves?

Buber’s model can be applied to not only creating a culture but can help us relate to our customers, our teams and ourselves. At YuLife, we embrace I-Yu with a philosophy that embraces the whole person, inspiring them to live their best lives. Our customer feedback is our barometer of I-Yu and helps ensure we are on the right track.

Here’s a recent letter I received from one of our YuLife members that brings I-Yu to life:

"Good afternoon Mr. Rubin,

I just wanted to drop you a brief message to let you know of the fantastic service I received from a member of your team called Nina.  

I had a query about the Garmin discount (I receive YuLife benefits through my employer) on a newly released watch.

At the time I couldn’t see the discount applying to my desired item. After speaking to Nina, she confirmed that as the product was new, no discount could be applied, however she advised me to keep an eye on it as discounts vary month to month.

A few weeks later, Nina contacted me to inform me the discount could now be applied. This in itself would warrant a pat on the back but Nina continued to support me in my difficulties.

I sincerely feel that the service from Nina was exemplary and I wanted to congratulate you on the high standard your team achieves.

Sincerely, Dan (YuLife member)"

Sammy Rubin

Sammy Rubin is the Founder & CEO of YuLife, a life insurance company that strives to offer effective life cover and improve the health and overall wellbeing of its users.