I just read a story about a consultant who was presenting a workshop to help teachers working with behaviorally challenged kids. During the workshop, the teachers talked about one particular child who was very disruptive. They described one incident where, after becoming increasingly unmanageable, the child ran out of the classroom and out into the schoolyard.
To deal with such things, the teachers had typically defaulted to using a “time out” room, a kind of isolation booth for the unruly. This, however, was proving not to work for everyone. In fact, it served in some cases to make things worse. They wanted to know what else could be done. What could the consultant add that they hadn’t thought of?
Well, the consultant knew that people do not respond so well to being pushed, they typically resist when attempts are made to control them, it is human nature. So they suggested that the teachers think differently. He asked them what would happen, if during one of these disruptions, they thought about how they could be helpful (a more selfless act of thinking about the child’s needs first) rather than to try to control (a more selfish act of thinking about the desire to maintain order)? What if they could move away from their assumptions about this child, and instead, think more about how they could help them? What, by thinking this way, might occur to them to do differently?
Two weeks later, the consultant came back for a follow-up session. The teachers were eager to share their experiences. In one particular story, a teacher recounted that the problem child had run into the gym and hid under blankets. In contrast to how they would have responded earlier, the teacher began to think about the needs/wants of a child in a classroom. They thought, “what if my assumption that this child is just acting out and trying to be a distraction is wrong? What if they just want to play instead of work in a classroom?” With this in mind, they gently approached the child and got down next to them and explained that they would be happy to play hide and seek later after the class. They then returned to their class without demanding that the child go with them.
When the class was over, true to their promise, they returned to the gym to find the child still under the blankets. They reached down and removed the blankets with a loud, “Found you!” From here, they continued the game until they had to go teach another class. Before leaving, they carefully explained that it was time for them to go work with the other students and that they enjoyed playing the game. Twenty minutes later, our disruptive child snuck back into the classroom and sat down.
Several teachers began doing similar things. They would treat their “problem” children as people rather than problems. They would ask the child questions, involve them more, and clearly explain why things had to be certain ways. And although the problems did not cease completely, the teachers all reported that things were different. They were different and the children were different.
What the teachers had found was that seeing the needs of the children made all of the difference. When they took the position of seeing the humanity of the kids (i.e. that they had needs and wants) rather than simply seeing them as a problem, they were able to act, in the moment, to do things for the children rather than to them, they were able to be helpful rather than controlling.
What is the lesson for all of us in the workplace? Well, how might you be seeing others as problems or obstacles rather than people with needs and challenges? How well do you know the objectives and pressures of your fellow team members? How well do you know the objectives and pressures of your customers? How might making these things your first consideration change how you manage those relationships? How might it make you more helpful rather than controlling? How might things be radically different at work … and maybe even at home? Try it and see. Think differently, think about others’ needs and challenges, think about how you can be more helpful, make it your go-to thought, a thought to change the world, your’s and others.’