Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Conflict

Tips For Teams: A Kid's Eye View

Art Linkletter was right...kids do say the darndest things! And, interestingly enough, some of the things they say can teach grown-ups a thing or two...even in the world of business.

For example, these true stories from Beverly's book, KidSpiration: Out of the Mouths of Babes (co-authored by Judy Moon Denson), illustrate five key elements of teamwork that are essential for success in today's chaotic workplace.

1. Communicate often, completely, and accurately.

It was five-year-old Lance's first T-ball game. He swung - WHACK! Lance started to run...first base...second base...the crowd went wild! As he rounded third, he could hear their words in his ears, "Go home, Lance! Go home!"

Instead of heading for home plate, the little guy held up, his steps faltering, his lips quivering. He headed toward the gate. With all the courage he could muster, he turned and yelled back to the crowd, "OK, then, I WILL go home!"

The crowd had the best of intentions...to encourage Lance to achieve. Yet, he misinterpreted their words because he didn't have the experience to understand their meaning.

How often this happens among leaders and team members! They think they've gotten the message across, but the other person hears from his or her own perspective. The impact is definitely different from the intent.

Communication, then, should be tailored to the receiver and should be complete and accurate.

2. Really tune in; listen with both your ears and your heart.

Teams often fail miserably because leaders and members are poor listeners. They may listen half-heartedly at best, planning what they are going to say next or daydreaming about something else entirely. Like six-year-old Richard.

It had been a trying Monday morning in the first-grade classroom. Richard, a difficult student, had traced his teacher's steps throughout the day, tugging at her skirt and calling her name repeatedly. Finally, she reached her limit. She took him into the hall and lectured him sternly: "Richard, you follow me everywhere, you don't listen to me, and you don't follow the rules. You MUST sit down and do your work!"

As she spoke, Richard listened, wide-eyed. She began to feel guilty for being so harsh. After all, Richard did have some problems. Maybe she had damaged his self-esteem. Before she could finish the thought, Richard broke the silence.

"Ms. Hannaford, you've got white teeth just like my dog!"

Unlike Richard, excellent team members take the time to really tune in and hear not just the words, but also the feelings of the message. Further, rather than assuming they "got it", they check for understanding.

An ancient philosopher said, "The reason why we have two ears and only one mouth is that we may listen the more and talk the less." Great advice for those who want to connect with others and to always be learning.

3. Resolve conflicts constructively.

Three-year-old Amy "whopped" her 18-month-old sister, Margaret, on the head with a toy hammer.

"Amy, why did you do that?" her daddy scolded.

"Well, Daddy," she reasoned, "sometimes the good just runs out!"

When people are working together, conflict is inevitable. "Sometimes the good just runs out." I don't recommend a hammer! A much more effective plan is to sit down together and discuss the matter factually and respectfully.

Unfortunately, this approach is much too rare among co-workers. Instead, they may show their anger indirectly - through back-stabbing, gossip, sarcasm, or sabotage. If they do discuss it directly, they may derail the process by attacking with emotionally charged words and name-calling.

Eight-year-old Michael had apparently experienced this. As the children were lining up to go inside after recess, Michael broke away from the group and ran to the teacher.

Pointing to a boy in line, he complained, "Teacher, he called me the E-word!"

"What's the E-word?" the teacher asked.

"You know...E-DIOT!"

4. Accept responsibility for change.

Another thing that sabotages good problem solving is blaming and denial of responsibility. Apparently, the temptation to do so begins early in life, as evidenced by the words of two-year-old Josh. Josh's parents were doing their best to potty-train him. The baby-sitter was trying to support their efforts. Noticing that the child's pants were wet, she asked the obvious. "Josh, did you wet your pants?"

He responded, "Nope! It wained!"

Shared responsibility, direct and respectful communication, a focus on the facts, a commitment to understand and honor the other person's perspective and feeling...these lead to win-win resolutions that last.

5. Make courtesy common.

Too often, team members (and family members!) are more courteous to strangers in the grocery line than to those they relate with most closely. Common courtesy is not so common!

Three-year-old Charles's behavior is not unlike that of many people in the workplace.Mr. Jones offered Charles a shiny red apple. Charles grabbed the apple and took a bite.

His father seized the opportunity to teach the boy some manners. "What are you going to say, Charles?"

Without hesitation, Charles looked at Mr. Jones and said, "You got any more?"

What a difference it would make on many teams if more people paused to say "thank you", rather than expecting more, more! Or, if more team members followed the advice of seven-year-old Hans.

After a bedtime story, Hans' mother asked him what he knew about the Ten Commandments. Hans replied, "I don't know all of them, but I know the most important one."

"Which one is that?" she asked.

Hans said, "Keep your hands, feet, and other objects to yourself!"

Let's don't forget to keep that commandment! Respecting the rights and the space of others and the simple use of good manners take us a long way toward effective relationships.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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