Communications skills [dealing with toddlers, teens & sibling rivalry]


Part three in our summer series on parenting skills that transfer to the workplace…

Getting people to buy into your ideas is a key skill in many workplaces. It is something you will be doing daily at home, although you may not get the credit for it. You may not use Powerpoint presentations or other technological aids to persuasion at home, but getting people on board with your plans or at least A plan requires Machiavellian skills and communication nous.

1. Toddler tantrums

Scenario one: toddler on the floor in the middle of a supermarket. You need to get bread and get out of the supermarket before you are thrown out or your parenting credentials are shot to pieces. This requires a cool head, despite the fact that you haven’t slept properly for a week and would dearly love to lie down on the floor and cry yourself. In fact, this might be a good ploy, but perhaps only if the supermarket is completely empty at the time.  It can provide the kind of shock value needed to stop the tantrum in its tracks. Other tactics include bribery [don’t aim too high or you will be setting yourself up for a fall next time round], the fireman’s lift and a swift exit [who needs bread?], hugging it out, diverting attention away from the thing said toddler is upset about by talking about something completely random, commiseration about the state of the world and chocolate. NB reasoning will rarely work. Reasoning is for after the tantrum loop has been broken.

2. Sibling rivalry

Scenario two: siblings at war. This is where your key diplomatic skills come in. The UN has nothing on you. Each side will justify their actions and seek to cast the other as immoral, inept and a downright liar. It is your job to broker some form of truce despite the fact that you were not an eyewitness to the alleged misdemeanours and despite the fact that you well know that whatever the given justification, the real source of injustice goes back many, many years. It is a good idea to create the appearance of some sort of fair procedure, eg, taking each participant to one side and listening to their complaint. Being listened to sympathetically is nine tenths of the battle. You can also co-opt them into psychoanalysing their sibling’s motives and grievances on the grounds that mutual understanding can bring some semblance of peace. Of course, you may be forced to take the Switzerland route and lock yourself in the bathroom, claiming neutrality.

3. Getting people out of the house

This is similar to the supermarket tantrum, but it gets worse as children get older and you become less able to take the fireman’s lift option. No manner of threats to leave without them will work. You can try gentle conversations beforehand, but in the end it will usually come down to an ever-increasing crescendo of “We’re lates” followed by total eruption in the manner of Mount Vesuvius. The best ploy is to delegate the whole thing to someone else eg get one sibling to be team leader for a day on a rotating basis. Once they see what it’s like, they may well get their act together quicker next time. Or they may well not.

4. Communicating with partners

If you have one, you will need to communicate with them, if possible, even if it is mainly about what you are having for dinner and who is picking up the kids. You may not see them much and when you do, every conversation may be punctuated by “muuuum/daaad, can you just…” You may therefore find that you communicate most effectively by text message. Bear in mind that the tone of text messages/emails can be misunderstood and what you thought was a joke can very easily be taken as a put down. This is where emoticons and exclamation marks come in. Use them liberally, but only if you actually understand what they mean.

5. Getting people to do what you want

For example, cleaning the house. This can involve all manner of creative ploys from reward charts [use pence instead of pounds so it seems the reward is bigger than it actually is. NB teenagers will be wise to this tactic] to putting Mary Poppins on and going around snapping your fingers. If you can make it seem fun, you have won most of the battle. Put some music on, dress up in strange clothes, invent a cleaning dance/rap, whatever it takes. Who knows? It could prove so popular people may actually volunteer next time round.

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