Children can teach us a thing or two. They are born with a deep-rooted sense of justice. Just ask them to share a biscuit. “You cut, I choose,” used to be the mantra in my house if ever there was something to be split between my boys. There is nothing more exasperating to a child than unfairness. It brings on the sulk faster than a child hears a sweet wrapper crinkle. In the wise words of our purple dinosaur friend, “sharing is caring,” and that is the unspoken rule in the toybox.
When my youngest was in nursery school, they had a talking table. Not an actual table that talked, but a peace table where children who were fighting had to go sit and talk through their disagreements. It was here they learnt about the role of the peacemaker and the role of the peacekeeper. It was here they learnt to regulate their emotions and behaviour. It was here they learnt to listen to others’ plights. It was here they learnt how to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. It was here that they learnt to be accountable and responsible for their part in the resolution of the problem.
To let the child do as he likes when he has not yet developed any powers of control, is to betray the idea of freedom… Real freedom instead, is a consequence of development…”
At home, we spoke about a win-win. My 2-year-old used to howl at his brothers if something was unfair and say, “we do win-win!” He grasped the concept before he could speak properly, and he grasped it because our desire for justice is ingrained in our DNA. No matter how old we are.
Fast forward to adulthood. We grow up, we become opinionated, we develop egos, but that desire for fairness is still rooted deeply in our DNA. Perhaps we need to go back to the talking table and take a leaf out of those children’s books.
Here are some lessons we can learn from the little ones…
- Fair is fair – what is right is right. It is not always easy or convenient to be fair, but deep in our gut we know what is right and what is unjust. When you treat people fairly, they respect you for it and then relations become easier. Do the right thing.
- Do a win-win – there is no winning in compromising. We need to learn to come to an agreement where all parties are happy. This may seem ideal, and perhaps you are thinking unrealistic, but true negotiation is a skill. When we feel our needs are heard we are more open to hearing what the other party needs to, and when there is respect and true comprehension, there can be true communication and collaboration.
- Listen – with the intention of hearing, not the intention of responding. Often, we are so busy formulating our own argument in our own head that we fail to hear what the other person is really saying. Perhaps adults need a talking table too. The rules were one speaks one listens, and then you get to swap. When we are forced to actually listen, we can be more creative in our solutions and negotiations – that is when true communication takes place
- Don’t throw tantrums. “It’s not fair!” is probably not something we actually stomp our feet and say as adults, but it doesn’t mean we don’t feel it. Truth be told, sometimes I would love to stomp my feet and hurl myself on the floor and shout at the injustices of adulthood. But we teach children from little that there is no value in throwing a tantrum. Learning to regulate our emotions and behaviour is a grown-up skill that we need in our personal relationships and in boardrooms. Unfortunately, it is not simply one we master with aging – I have seen many an adult tantrum – but real communication and collaboration can only happen when we know how to regulate ourselves.
To summarise, managing conflict, learning to communicate, and collaboration then, are child’s play. Get yourself a talking table, remember your nursery school rules, and let’s all act like grown up kids.