There are a lot of books in some way or another describing communication. They embrace brilliantly and deal with communication issues in different areas: professional, personal communication, communication in groups, at work, with friends and life partners, etc. Not a long time ago I came across a book that also considers communication but in a very fundamental and forward-looking way. It deals with communication with our children.
As a mom of a teenager I struggle almost every day to find common language with my daughter. It used to be so easy and she used to be open-hearted and attached to me, but in one day everything changed and I realized there is an alien in my 10-years-old daughter’s body and I must learn her language and the way she sees the world around to get along with her.
Luckily, I came across an article about Ross Greene, an American clinical child psychologist and an author of several books about children and their behavior. The one I am going to write about in this post is “Raising Human Beings: Creating a Collaborative Partnership With Your Child”.
It’s a wonderful book. Wonderful in a way that helps you to get rid of old-school, outdated familiar patterns of raising your children that are proving to be ineffective in the 21st century.
Greene calls to discard the authoritarian approach mostly based on power struggle and control. What he emphasizes is the need for modern parents to investigate more, get as much information as possible about what prevents their children from meeting certain expectations. The author encourages collaborative partnership between parents and their children based on trust, empathy, compassion and understanding. Children do well if they can and that is what they prefer. This is the core idea that parents should keep in mind casting aside the lack of motivation assumption and blaming.
As I was reading this book, I saw clearly that it’s not actually only about the effectiveness of solving problems between parents and children. The approach described by Greene is so fundamental that it can be used for everyone!
The main question of the book goes far beyond specific parent-child confrontations. It’s about the communication in general. The one really aimed at solving problems and fostering collaboration between people and the one that will fight power struggles in the world. It’s about overcoming assumptions, gathering data, expressing your worries and concerns, inviting your counterparts to collaborative and mutually beneficial problems solving, avoiding counterproductive communication patterns in general and developing open, trust-based and long-term relationships.
It reminds me of an agile retrospective where at the core there are three main activities: Gathering Data, Generating Insights and Deciding What To Do. Whether you are a Scrum Master working with your team or a loving parent trying to figure out the cause of your child’s struggles, it’s a must to start with getting the information you need. Nothing happens without a reason. With the crucial information in your hands from all the parties involved (including yourself) you can proceed to solving the issue together, in a collaborative and mutually satisfactory way. Instead of providing a unilateral top-down solution, start a dialog. A dialog helps to reveal true causes, build a system vision, and the solutions you come up with get a better chance to work in the long run.
Greene makes an observation that the level of compassion and empathy is going down nowadays. It’s being replaced with narcissism and the spreading dominance of achievement and competition. We strive to build better careers, earn more money, gain more attention and appraisal. We suffer from much larger doses of enduring stress. All these things take over our ability to be empathetic.
Greene’s ideas appeal to me greatly. We should think to re-humanize the society and pay more effort to nurturing the most important human qualities in our children, such as empathy, compassion, honesty, resolving disagreements in ways that do not involve conflicts, appreciating how one’s behavior affects other people and taking other people’s perspectives.
I imagine the agile retrospective format to become a usual thing one day since people will simply do what their parents have been doing to them following Greene’s approach. No facilitation will be needed since everyone will get so used to collaborative problem solving that will not know about any other approach.
Read “Raising Human Beings” if you want to get a definitive guide on how to bring empathy into communication and not only with children. It’s a wonderful book full of insights revolving around the idea that collaboration is the key ingredient in getting problems solved and things done.
For my Russian-speaking friends – the book is also available in Russian.