Jun 232011

Triple Book Short: For Parents

Triple Book Short: For Parents

People who know me know that I am a voracious reader.  Among other things, I probably read about 25-30 books per year — and I wish I had time for more.  I probably read about 50% business books, which I blog about.  Most of my other reading is in a couple specific topical areas that interest me like American History and Evolutionary Biology.  Over the last few years, Mariquita and I have discovered and read a handful of books about parenting that have been foundational for us as we work deliberately at raising our three kids, and two of them have roots in some of the same philosophies, psychologies, and research as a lot of contemporary business literature.  So for parents everywhere, I thought I’d devote a book short to these three books.

The first one is Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth.  Having kids who sleep long and well has been the foundation for us to have a well functioning household.  Well rested kids are much easier than tired ones.  Well rested parents are more effective.  We have found that the principles in this book have consistently served us well on this front.  All three of our kids more or less slept through the night starting at 6-8 weeks and have been great sleepers since then.

Unconditional Parenting, by Alfie Kohn is basically, for those in the HR/OD field, “Action/Design” for parenting.  The principles in this book have applied to kids as young as 1 year old, and the examples in the book go through the teenage years.  Our main learnings from this book have been around moving away from more traditional forms of reward, punishment, and control and towards helping our kids make decisions as opposed to follow directions by understanding our kids perspective on things, working to help them articulate their own understanding of a situation, and helping them see the perspective of others.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, by John Gottman, builds on a lot of the same underlying work that Daniel Goleman writes about in articles and business books around Emotional Intelligence (in fact, Goleman wrote the forward to this book as well).  The book lays out a process the author calls Emotional Coaching to help kids learn empathy and problem solving by showing kids empathy, teaching them to understand and label their own emotions, and working with them to craft solutions on their own, but doing the whole process in a very calm and 1:1 manner.  One of my favorite parts of the book, which is so unusual in business books and any kind of self-help book, is that the author has a whole section devoted to when NOT to use this process.

Parenting is a very personal thing, and there isn’t a right or wrong way to go about it.  I have a friend who is fond of saying that parenting is a little bit like the way comedian George Carlin used to describe “other drivers” on the highway.  People who are going slower than you are “a**holes” and people who are going faster than you are “crazy.”  Only you drive the “right way.”  So true, but if you’re a parent, there’s no more important thing to be deliberate about practicing than parenting, and these books have been a good practice guide for us.  We have found a full read of these three books to be very helpful to us in our work with our kids, and we have been very lucky that our main babysitter has been aligned with us on philosophy (and has been willing to read these books with us).

Jan 052010

What Gets Said vs. What Gets Heard

What Gets Said vs. What Gets Heard

I’ve been on the edge of a few different situations lately at work where what seems like a very clear (even by objective standards) conversation ends up with two very different understandings down the road.  This is the problem I’d characterize as “What gets said isn’t necessarily what gets heard.”  More often than not, this is around delivering bad news, but there are other use cases as well.  Imagine these three fictitious examples:

  • Edward was surprised he got fired, even though his manager said he gave him repeated warnings and performance feedback
  • Jacob thought his assignment was to write a proposal and get it out the door before a deadline, but his manager thought the assignment was to schedule a brainstorming meeting with all internal stakeholders to get everyone on the same page before finalizing the proposal
  • Bella gets an interim promotion – she still needs to prove herself for 90 days in the new job before the promotion is permanent and there is a comp adjustment – then gets upset when the “email to all” mentions that she is “acting”

Why does this happen?  There are probably two main causes, each with a solution or two.  The first is that What Gets Said isn’t 100% crystal clear.  Delivering difficult news is hard and not for the squeamish.  What can be done about it?  The first problem — the crystal clear one — can be fixed by brute force.  If you are giving someone their last warning before firing him, don’t mumble something about “not great performance” and “consequences.”  Look him in the eye and say “If you do not do x, y, and z in the next 30 days, you will be fired.” 

The second cause is that, even if the conversation is objectively clear, the person on the receiving end of the conversation may WANT to hear something else or believes something else, so that’s what “sticks” out of the conversation.  Solving this problem is more challenging.  Approaching it with a lengthy conversation process like the Action Design model or the Difficult Conversations model is one way; but we don’t always have the time to prepare for or engage in that level of conversation, and it’s not always appropriate.  I’d offer two shortcut tips to get around this issue.  First, ask the person to whom you’re speaking to “play back in your own words what you just heard.”  See it she gets it right.  Second, send a very clear follow-up email after the conversation recapping it and asking for email confirmation.

People are only human (for the most part, in my experience), and even when delivering good news or assignments, sometimes things get lost in translation.  But clarity of message, boldness of approach, and forcing playback and confirmation are a few ways to close the gap between What Gets Said and What Gets Heard.