I settled down to watch Channel 4's latest 'we've put cameras everywhere' documentary last night. Rather than a family home, or a secondary school, the focus this time was a nursery and playground. The stars? A group of 4-year-old children meeting each other for the first time.
Child/developmental psychology is still an area that fascinates me, and one in which I previously-imagined forging a career. There's an almost miraculous process that takes place in years 1-10, where our ideas of social norms are formed, the development of personality arises, and crucial lessons are learned which will help define who we grow-up to be. A handful of these really stood-out for me in this episode, as useful reminders for any team:
We know all about fairness
Even at age four, we have an innate sense of fairness. Whether it's something wrong/right that has been inflicted upon us, or something we notice in others.
In last night's episode, a boys vs girls relay race involving bean bags on heads illustrated this perfectly. The girls insisted on following the rules to the letter (no hands on heads), whereas the boys did everything they could to skirt around those rules in order to win. Things, predictably, did not end well!
Fairness is a guiding principle in so many aspects of the way we live our lives. Negotiating a salary, putting together an important proposal, or making a difficult decision. If you cannot reconcile that situation with your perception of fairness, it will inevitably need to be resolved further along the line.
In a CIPD report on workplace fairness, employees were asked whether they had found anything particularly unfair in their working life. 41% said yes, and 59% believed rules and procedures were not applied consistently by decision makers.
Sometimes it can be difficult to express what you feel inside
Last night's episode highlighted the girls' highly-developed communication skills to show how easy it is for them to explain their feelings about certain situations. The boys, by contrast (who at this age are on average around five months behind girls in their communication skills) struggled to use any sophisticated form of communication, other than grunting and shouting.
Whilst there is a popular theory that adult women speak significantly more than men, multiple studies have shown the difference to be negligible at best. What does seem to matter is the nature of how things are expressed.
Anne Kreamer's work on emotion in the workplace argues the case for both neurological and cultural differences to explain the way that we express anger at work. Kreamer found that two-thirds of young men believe displaying anger is an effective management tool, even though explosive anger has been found to be devaluing and demotivating for team members. Her research indicated that women feel less-able to express anger at work, so have to constrain and suppress many related emotions.
Sharing ideas means seeing things from others' perspectives
Whether it's convincing a friend to play a fun game, or share an important business idea, sharing ideas effectively often means stepping outside of your own perceptions/values/expectations to see things from someone else's point of view.
In their book 'Real Influence', Mark Goulston and John Ullmen argue that true engagement occurs in three specific ways:
- Situational Awareness - showing that you get "it". Grasping their reality along with the challenges, opportunities that your conversational counterpart is facing.
- Personal Awareness - showing that you get "them". Connecting on a personal level to understand fears, concerns, hopes and needs.
- Solution Awareness - showing that you get where they want to go. Offering options, alternatives and ideas to help empower and clarify thinking.