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Off the Record: Why you should treat your employees like kids

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Before I was a journo, I spent a year and a bit as a pre-school teacher, and if there’s one similarity I had to draw from both experiences, it’s that we never grow up.

When I signed up to be a pre-school teacher, I had absolutely no experience and had no idea what I was actually signing up for. It took me a while to get used to managing small classes of four and five-year-olds, but looking back, a lot of what I learnt back then helps in the professional relationships I’m building now.

Allow me to elaborate.

Adults, much like children, have short attention spans. Leave someone doing the same thing for too long and there will be tantrums. When you’re a kid, you’ll cry, stamp your feet around and maybe refuse to move from the corner you’re crying in.

Adults react, most of the time, by quitting.

The easiest way about this is variety. Back in the pre-school, we never used a lesson plan for more than two weeks. While I acknowledge 14 days may be too short a duration for a project in the real working world, it’s worth keeping in mind variety is still the spice of life.

On a similar note, I would also like to point out tantrums, crying and throwing up have little to no effect on me now. Any parent will tell you that after a while, you grow immune to it. So the way I deal with the slightly more, shall we say, difficult professional relationships is the same as I would with a child who is refusing to pick up his toys after play – I reason.

Often, conflicts in offices are caused by miscommunication. Your end goal and your reasons on why getting there ‘your way’ is the best way hasn’t necessarily been put across as clearly as it could have to the other party. If you find an employee sulking around and performing below levels, take him aside, explain your point of view and –here’s the shocker – listen to why he thinks he might be right.

As parents, teachers and, yes, bosses, a lot a times the biggest mistake we make during conflict is to impose our views on the other party.

When I was teacher, telling a kid doing something my way without explaining why usually pushed me three steps back, rather than a step forward. Kids are defiant by nature  and to a certain extent, so are adults (it’s called ego, for the uninformed).

So the next time you find yourself in an argument with someone who is stubborn, narrow-minded and myopic in their decision making, it might be wise to take a minute to listen to why they’re doing it a certain way and explain why you think your method might be better. Note I said might, because there might just be the off-chance you’re not.

Which brings me nicely into this friendly reminder: Everyone’s learning. I may have been the teacher in those classes but every lesson taught me something new. I know I haven’t been working very long, but my line of work has given me the privilege of mingling with and picking the brains of leaders from some of the biggest brands, and they often tell me a good leader is someone who is isn’t afraid to learn.

The world is moving at such a fast pace that there’s no shame in admitting someone lower down the corporate ladder may know more about something than you might. Increasingly, companies are taking on reverse mentoring roles, where senior leaders are paired with graduates or executives to gain a different view on things.

I’m not saying you should head out into your office and demand the new kid attach himself to you and impart all his knowledge on social media, but be open to ideas and concepts that you may otherwise neglect.

The biggest thing I took away from my experience as a teacher is to always celebrate the little things.

For children, every thing is a discovery. A new ball, a new stuffed toy, even a new hairstyle is something to shout and dance about. Taking that into the office, don’t forget that staff need tiny boosts of encouragement and recognition, too. Congratulate a new deal, celebrate a project completion or spend an evening at a team dinner to reflect on the month’s accomplishment.

Baby steps, guys. Baby steps.

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