Parenting as a Management Skill … Huh? (part 9)

Smart parents have great tactics to go about with lazy children. Great parents know that what looks like laziness is often exhaustion. They have no tactic, just authentic compassion. I wish we had more of that in our own profession.

The Story

My son has a bleeding disorder for which he regularly needs to go to hospital. The examinations often take quite some time and since we are talking about a bleeding disorder there are always needles involved. He’s a five-year-old toddler and for all I know the most amazing and brave five-year-old I have ever seen. Last Friday for example he had serious nosebleeds (I won’t go into further medical details – I promise) so his mother took him to the hospital. The whole time – that is: about 4 hours of waiting, examination, blood collection and administration – my son as the most pleasant and easy-going kid of the hospital. You can imagine how proud we were as parents.

Fast-forward a few hours and we can see that same boy getting angry and collapsing into tears for the slightest thing that happens during his play. If one would only look at how he behaved in the afternoon without taking onto consideration what happened before noon, one would think that this is a lazy and obnoxious kid. He surely would not receive compassion or respect for his behavior, because by all parental standards his behavior is unacceptable.

As reasonable parents we would find an appropriate sanction – one that is socially acceptable and applauded by other parents. You know: focus on the behavior, reinforce the positive aspects, make him conscious of his behavior and blablabla… And by all means: don’t pat the kid on the back, because that would only confirm his behavior as acceptable!

Let’s be honest: reasonable parents can be wrong sometimes. Terribly wrong. All the boy needed was hug. A big long comforting hug.

What We Can Learn

In their 2010 book Switch, Chip & Dan Heath use the analogy of an elephant and its rider. The rider represents the rational and logical. The elephant, on the other hand, represents our emotions, our gut response. They are two parts of the human mind and the premise of the book is that change management initiatives need to address both rider and elephant in order to change.

In the below video, Dan Heath explains the experiment of the radish-eaters and how they are exhausting their self-control. In other words: what happens when we neglect the elephant being exhausted.

This research confirms that our self-control is like a muscle that can get tired. This is true for my son in hospital, but it is also true for the efforts you put into following a diet or adapting to a new computer system. By the time you are in the middle of the effort, the initial enthusiasm is no longer there. You are mentally exhausted. You find yourself lacking all the motivation you had when you started the journey. And on top of that … people around you are most likely to label you as ‘resistant’ or ‘lazy’.

Let’s be honest, when you are exhausted, the last thing you need is other people’s judgement. In reality you need a comforting hug and mental support. As Heath states:

When you hear people say that change is hard because people are lazy or resistant, that’s just flat wrong. In fact, the opposite is true: Change is hard because people wear themselves out. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion.

The Moral

Next time we label a person as lazy or resistant, let’s broaden our perspective a little. Also, let’s broaden our OWN arsenal of possible responses with: respect. In 99% of the cases people don’t need our judgement or our ‘being right’. They need someone they can talk to, someone who will listen and not judge.

Like great parents, great organizational change practitioners don’t treat people as change objects, but as change subjects. It makes all the difference between a smart tactic to ‘tackle resistance’ and an authentic act of listening and support. The first is a tactic, the latter is a connection. Ask yourself: what matters most?