What We Learn From Kids That Makes Us Better At Work

Every spring we’re encouraged to bring our kids to work for a day. Ostensibly, it’s a chance for kids to see what a workplace looks like and to pull back the curtain on what mom and dad really do all day.

But there’s actually an even better reason for the kids to come to the office: They can remind us of what we’ve learned from them that can improve our productivity and the way we deal with co-workers in real and meaningful ways.

While we certainly try to teach our children, sometimes it’s actually the other way around. And those teachings can make us better bosses and better colleagues. The kids aren’t just watching what we do, they’re watching how we do it. Here are a few things I have learned from my kids at home that really help me in the workplace.

Keep it short

 Blame it on whatever you like, but my kids have incredibly short attention spans. So, I adopted the 10-Word Rule when trying to get my point across: I promise I’ll keep whatever I have to say to 10 words or less, as long as they give me their full attention. And for us, it works wonders.

At work, how many meetings have you been in where you were looking at the clock, wondering when you’ll actually get your work done, while conversations linger or become repetitive?

Instead of droning on, what if you kept every announcement or key message to just 10 words, or meetings to 10 minutes? While it might not always be achievable, the practice of keeping it short and sweet can have an enormous impact in the office. Your message will actually be heard, and your colleagues won’t feel the burden of needlessly long meetings.

Listen first

 When the kids are acting up, it’s usually not just for the sake of starting trouble. There’s generally something else going on. Listening before I react can go a long way toward resolving the undesired behavior.

What if when something we didn’t understand happened at work, we simply asked a question and actually listened to the explanation? We could diffuse many, if not most, office conflicts, and ultimately develop more fruitful interactions and relationships with our coworkers. Try it.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

You may have heard this unattributed African proverb before, but it bears repeating:

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

As a parent, often it seems like it would be simpler to do the dishes, laundry and other work around the house, rather than chase the kids to pitch in and do their chores.  Kids can’t do everything right the first time (or the one hundredth time in some cases!), but as adults, we often think it somehow ought to be different.

It might be faster to just do something yourself in the moment, but in the long run, you may actually create more work for everyone, and destroy the sense of teamwork along the way. We need to rely on subject experts and have the courage to ask for help and delegate responsibilities when needed.   And when people are less experienced, we need to help and make it fun.  When my kids and I clean the kitchen together, we often crank the tunes, sing and dance as we go…we make it fun and it reminds us how much we like working and playing together.  Same principles apply in the office.

So have fun.

For a young child, anything in the world can become a game. In fact, it’s a critical part of learning. The Harvard Center on the Developing Child has found that utilizing games and play coaching can significantly improve executive function skills in children — things like planning,  staying focused on tasks and self-monitoring. Sounds pretty useful in the workplace, doesn’t it?

Scheduling time for workers to relieve some pressure and simply enjoy themselves will actually improve productivity in the long run. Order pizza, tell old stories and jokes. Whatever it is, don’t take things yourself seriously. Kids never do, and neither should we.

Speak plainly

Before a certain age, kids really don’t understand sarcasm or what it is to be passive aggressive (clearly, we’re talking about pre-teens here). We could take a page from the way kids communicate and be more straightforward at work.

Before you respond to what might be perceived as a snarky email, just walk over to your co-worker and open a dialogue. Chances are the issue will be resolved much faster and you’ll end up fostering a better working relationship by being direct.

Let things go

When a toddler throws a tantrum in the middle of a store, it can feel like it will go on forever. But when they’re done, they can suddenly turn into that sweet kid you love. From one moment to the next their mood can completely change, making every moment a new opportunity to hit the reset button. Meanwhile, parents are left fuming for hours.

Like it or not we are all emotional beings, and emotion will always be a part of the workplace. But we can foster a culture where forgiveness happens quickly, grudges dissolve and we move on with grace and enthusiasm to the next challenge.

The assumption is that taking our kids to work is something we do to educate them. This year, try to make sure it’s not just them who ends up learning something from the experience.

Read more: Launching Startup Kids: 3 Secrets to Raising Entrepreneurial Children

Matthew McCooe
Matt McCooe manages Connecticut Innovation’s full array of business startup and growth initiatives, which include venture and equity investment funds, loans and loan guarantees, and programs to support innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration and commercialization. A veteran business executive, Matt has more than 20 years of experience in venture capital, sales, marketing and product management.