6 Things I've Learned About Communication From a Toddler
Toddlers can be real jerks. But they can also melt your heart faster than a microwave melts the butter that you just "meant to soften a bit". Little kids who are learning to communicate and interact with the world can provide some interesting insights on communication, influence, and public relations. This is what I've learned from watching my 2-year old interact with his world.
1. DO be clear. When AJ is tired or upset, his enunciation and vocabulary fly out the window, and he breaks down into incoherent babbling. While this has the effect of getting our attention, it doesn't get him what he wants in anything resembling an efficient fashion. He wants crackers, and we're waving stuffed animals at him like a couple of caffeinated mimes. Likewise, in grownup land, being precise and clear in your messaging leads to less confusion and happier people all around. 2. DON'T be rude. When he grabs something from his brother, or hits him in the effort to get a desired toy away from him, guess what AJ gets instead? A time-out. And when you want something from your client base, a vendor, or a partner, being imperious and disrespectful is only going to make people want to play with someone else.
3. DO find your passion The kid loves Umizoomi. He would watch it all day if I let him (and sometimes I have -- don't judge me.) He also talks about it with delight and passion and joy. And while I don't share that passion, I can't help but be charmed and engaged by how excited he is. Sharing your joy and not being "too cool" to be enthusiastic is contagious. Make your passion work for you! 4. But DON'T monopolize There comes a point when even the most patient parent tires of hearing about Umizoomi, especially when we're trying to tell AJ that it's time for supper, or that he needs to put away his train tracks before we trip on them. Droning on and on about your own interests while not being interested in what your clients/supporters have to say? That's alienating, and people will quickly lose interest, responding with "That's nice, dear" while not even listening. 5. DO show appreciation When the kidlet gets his much-desired cracker or cup of milk, more often than not he'll reward me with a big hug and a food-smeared kiss. It's sweet, and it does soften me up for his subsequent requests, whatever they may be (i.e. more Umizoomi). I wouldn't suggest milky kisses for your clients or customers (for the most part, laws tend to frown on that), but making sure to communicate sincere and heartfelt appreciation? That's always welcome, and it goes a long way.
6. DON'T lash out When angry about something, it is all too easy for a toddler to lash out with their fists, feet, teeth, head, or with a well-aimed missile. It's pretty much the textbook definition of "unproductive". It doesn't get him anything except for a time-out. And if your buttons have been pushed by a bad review, a difficult vendor, or an unreasonable customer? Lashing out only makes it worse. You might have seen the case of Amy's Baking Company in Arizona, which became infamous for their rude invective toward their employees, customers, the media and anybody who criticized them. Don't be that company or that news story.
Eventually, toddlers grow up and develop better social skills. However, it's a perpetual work in progress, and while we may outgrow footie pajamas (well, YOU might...), we never outgrow the need for clear, honest, and kind communication with the people who matter to us.