What toddlers can teach us about the workplace

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Putting temper tantrums aside, there are some amazing things to be learned from young kids.

Their uncluttered minds allow them to live in the moment with a focus and intensity that can get things done.

Adults haul around a constant buzz of other stuff, which means we struggle to focus and get things done. How did we lose this direct approach to life? And how could getting it back help us work better?

Really listen

Kids often don’t listen, but when they do, they really listen. When reading a story, they immerse completely – they feel the characters, think about their predicaments and ask questions which demand a response. If the answer doesn’t satisfy them, they say so.

Adults don’t listen like this. They tend to just grab the bare elements, often superimpose their own thoughts, and certainly don’t fully immerse in what they are hearing.

Next time you have a meeting at work, try to exclude your internal monologue from the conversation. Focus and listen like a child. In my experience, both you and the person talking to you will feel the difference.

Say what you feel

Most kids say exactly what they feel: “I love the colour blue” or “I hate carrots”. Adults tend to qualify everything: “Swimming in the sea is nice, but only if there are no waves.”

We spend so much time at work analysing the right course of action – weighing options, sifting data, making arguments – that sometimes we ignore the value of an immediate gut opinion.

This doesn’t mean the view is right, but a fast, honest statement is often missing from the ways adults express themselves. At the very least it brings freshness, energy and sometimes an angle that causes others to reconsider.

Be stupid

If you don’t understand something, the chances are that you are not the only one. But it takes courage to raise your hand and say so. This happens so rarely, but when it does there is a palpable feeling of relief around the room and a respect for the individual with the gumption to clarify things.

Most business decisions are straightforward – they just require clear thinking to resolve. Be a child, be instinctive and ask the obvious questions.

Value intuition

Intuitive thinkers often jump rapidly to a conclusion and then work back from it to make a justification. What’s important is that the opinion comes first and it’s born from subliminal processing. It’s not distorted by cluttering information.

Kids do it really well. ‘I’ve decided to save up my pocket money for three weeks to buy a new football instead of buying comics each weekend’. Why? ‘I dunno – but I know it’s right.’

Adults are pretty good at this, but not in the work place and certainly not in front of the boss. There we often need to show evidence, external validation and above all, provide data and lots of it. Being intuitive is often overlooked in favour of more demonstrably logical approaches.

We spend so much time at work posturing and pretending. Sometimes a little innocence is all that’s needed to up our game.