5 durable tips for meetings and meltdowns
I recently had the privilege of attending the Grace Hopper conference for women in tech. I attended a great session on “Becoming a person of influence”by Jo Miller. As I reflected upon my experiences of both being a design strategist and a mom of two, it turns out, dealing with grown-ups isn’t quite that different from dealing with kids. #commercialinnovation :P Here are some durable tips to have in your hearts and minds for almost any difficult conversation.
Take a step back
In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to react and try and fix the situation when more often than not, we’re not seeing the trigger or what led up to that situation. For stakeholders, often times we aren’t even aligned on what we are actually trying to accomplish in the meeting. Be the one to get everyone on the same page.
“Let’s take a step back here, what question are we trying to answer here?”
- said the one who ended up looking like the smartest person in the room
With kids, I do the same thing. After empathizing with them, I often asked them to repeat the sequence of events and why they got mad. They aren’t great at articulating their emotional needs though, which takes me to my second point.
2. Understand the context
At work, we often talk about how important it is to not only have empathy for our customers, but also empathy for our stakeholders. That is to put ourselves in their shoes and understand where they’re coming from, before even trying to advocate for ourselves. What pressure are they currently under in the position they’re in? What goals are they trying to meet? What is their boss possibly saying to them?
For kids, it’s usually more straight forward. Trace back the moments before the meltdown and see if you find any clues. Has their emotional tank been filled? Have you been working late the last few days? Are they hungry? Did they miss a nap? Have they been ignored for awhile? Often times, these things can be triggers.
3. Practice reflective listening
Everyone has the basic human need to be heard and feel like they’re important. Repeating back what you think you’ve heard is one of the easiest ways to help someone understand feel that. When a team member goes on a rant about something, repeat by starting with this:
“So what I think I’ve heard is, and correct me if I’m wrong, …”
With kids, you don’t have to do that. You just repeat everything they say. Not like a robot of course.
(I’m making dinner)
T, “Mommy, come play with me. I want to play with trains.”
Me, “Oh, you want me to play with you? And you want to do trains?”
T, “Yes! Come play now?”
Me, “I’d love to play trains with you! I’m going to do that once we’re done with dinner. Would you like me to set an alarm so we don’t forget?”
4. Go broad and narrow on the options
When you’re getting to the point of problem-solving, you might fall into the trap of it has to be your way, or their way. That’s not true. Practice creative problem-solving together and see if you can come up with even more options. With stakeholders, it could go something like this…
Me, “So to be clear, it sounds like there are two possible options. Both with their pros and cons. I wonder if there’s a 3rd or even 4th option? What if we ….?”
With kids it’s even easier, They just want to KNOW that they have options that they can choose from. They want to feel like they’re in control. The conversation could go like this one we just had this morning:
Emmy, “Mom, can I do the Raz app on your iPad? (it’s a reading app)”
Me, “Hmm… I dont think we have established rules on when we should be using the Raz app. Would you like to work on a plan for what is reasonable?”
Emmy, “No, I want to watch it now.”
Me, “Ah, you want to watch it now? Well… how about this, I’ll give you two choices. You can go to daddy now and work out a schedule for when we can use this app, or you can wait until Sunday morning and use your TV time for the app instead. What would you like to do?”
Emmy, “<grumbling and a little mad> Fine…”
5. Focus on relationship building
A close friend asked me recently: What is politics? How do I know if I’m being political? Good question, I wasn’t sure how to answer it at the moment but I was reminded of something my boss would say:
It’s politics when you suck at it. It’s relationships when you’re good at it.
How do you train your audience, child or adult, to listen to your voice and what you have to say? It starts with getting to know them as people. How many times have you said something at a meeting, and was totally ignored, only to have someone else say the exact same thing - but gain the recognition of the room? How many times have you talked to your child about something you want them to do, only to have them completely ignore you? Maybe not you, definitely me.
Influence begins before you even enter the room. It starts with relationships. - Jo Miller
That’s how I approach working with others. I may not be the smartest person in the room, or the quickest to say something, but I try to do my homework before hand. I’ve invested the time outside of that room to have 1:1s, get to know them as people, figure out what keeps them up at night.
It starts with special time
At home, every day we each invest 10 mins doing “special time” with our kids.We focus completely on what they want to do and say. I practice reflective listening (on crack!); I am completely focused on them. This tells them - You are important.
When life gets in the way, and special time is compromised, I can immediately start to see how they start to act up.
Guys, I’m not an expert. I’m just lucky that I have people in my life that are willing to coach me and point out my blindspots. We are also blessed that we have the resources to seek help, like we have with our parenting coach, or taking classes in KidPower and Positive Parenting. These ideas aren’t new and certainly not from me. But I do hope that when we see that people fundamentally have the same needs, it helps us adapt to almost any situation - work, life or kids.