Uncooperative child

Parent coach Shelly Phillips highlights six great communication tips for getting children to cooperate in a recent article. After reading the list, it became clear that with a few tweaks, the list is also a great source of communication tips for managing adults, as the psychology underlying the tips tends to hold true at all ages. 

Tip #1: Invite, don’t demand

Shelly’s parenting tip:

If we want our kids to cooperate, then we’ve got to be the bigger, more mature ones and lead by example. Contrary to popular belief, asking nicely, inviting, and working together to find a solution to a problem doesn’t teach children to be more defiant or disobedient, instead, by doing these things you’re laying a foundation of trust and teamwork that your kids will soon learn to rely on.

This is great advice for managers as well. At the very minimum, frame every request as a question. Even though as a practical matter your employee may have no choice, framing it as “could you do this” instead of “do this” is a significantly more cooperative tone. But good managers go even further, explaining to employees what is needed and inviting them to be a part of the solution.

Tip #2: Turn it into a game

Shelly’s parenting tip:

Kids love to play. When you can make something fun, they’re far more likely to get on board.

I’m always amazed at how well this classic trick works in professional contexts just as it does for children: simply turn the task into a competition.  You’ll want to use this one sparingly, because generally speaking you want to focused on instilling intrinsic motivators, but in some situations, extrinsic rewards can be effective. For example, imagine you have to get your team to complete a batch of lengthy, repetitive tasks that are “below their pay grade,” so to speak. Make it fun by offering a reward to the first ones done, e.g. a bottle of wine, the chance to pick the next team outing, or what song you (the boss) will sing karaoke at the office holiday party. Sometimes making a particularly mundane task into a competition can get people over their resentment and have some fun with their work.

Tip #3: Stop repeating yourself

Shelly’s parenting tip:

Trust me that repeating yourself is the last thing you want to do if you’re trying to foster cooperation. Your child heard you the first time, and by repeating yourself, you’re simply training her to stop listening and wait for you to get frustrated before she acts.

Imagine a lawyer working with an uncooperative paralegal who has to be reminded over and over to complete tasks on time. What is the lawyer accomplishing by sending frequent reminders, other than telling the paralegal that the task does not really need to get done until after the third or fourth warning? Instead, considering breaking the task into smaller tasks with shorter deadlines so you can track progress. Alternatively, sit down with the person to discuss the problem and asking why a given deadline was missed. In either case, do not simply repeat your instruction and expect a different result.

Tip #4: Get them to refresh your memory

Shelly’s parenting tip:

Be forgetful and invite them to remind you what you said a moment ago. “Wait, I forget, didn’t I just ask you to do something? What was that? I think we were getting ready to go somewhere, but can you please remind me where?”  This allows the kids to be the smarter ones and if there’s one thing children love, it’s being smarter and more capable than adults.

Good managers will ask employees to recap what they have been asked to do so everyone can stay on the same page. Sometimes this can seem condescending, so a more approachable method can be to pretend you have lost your train of thought and ask for a refresh. For example, if I give a team member four clear actions to take, at the end I might say, “I want to make sure we’ve covered everything I meant to discuss–can you remind me which tasks we’ve discussed to so far?”

Tip #5: Let them be in charge

Shelly’s parenting tip:

[Y]ou’ll get a lot more cooperation when you allow them to be in charge. No need to constantly corral them, just put one child in charge of getting everyone ready and out the door and you’ll be surprised how quickly it will happen.

I think of this as giving your team members “field promotions,” that is, placing them in a pseudo-manager role for the purpose of a certain task. For example, if you need your team members to update your project tracker each day with their progress, place one team member in charge of getting the others to fill it out. Rotate roles like these where possible to lighten your management load and demonstrate your respect for the team’s ability to get things done without being micromanaged.

Tip #6: Cooperate with them

Shelly’s parenting tip:

There are times when even the most cooperative child just needs some extra help. This could be because they’re tired, sick, hungry, or just feeling sad and disconnected. So if nothing else seems to work, offer to help.

It’s important to remember that when your employees or colleagues fall short of expectations, there may be more to the story than meets the eye. Even the best people have bad days and make mistakes, and as I’ve discussed before, jumping to a lecture about the importance of hard work can backfire. Sometimes the best thing to do is to roll up your sleeves and show you are willing to help when times get tough.

For more on Shelly Phillips’s tips for getting kids to cooperate, read the full article on LifeHack or check out her blog at Awake Parent.