My kids and I have been playing in the snow. After the 2nd nor’easter in two weeks, we have quite a bit of it. The other day we were snowplowing our walkway in front of our house with toy trucks. Joshua (age 3) had a red truck, Sophia (age 5) a yellow one. Sophia grabbed the red truck while Joshua wasn’t looking. Now she had both trucks, and Joshua had none.
I don’t have to tell you what happened next.
Joshua, upon realizing his new situation, grabbed the red truck back, yelling definitively, “Sophia! No! My truck!”
Sophia grabbed the red truck back. Begin the tug of war. Both kids screaming. No one playing.
I was in a resourceful, patient state of mind that day, which was lucky for all of us. I removed both of the trucks from their strong little hands. “That’s not how we play, kiddos. Joshua do you have something you want to say to your sister?”
Joshua, red in the face, said indignantly, “Sophia, that’s MY TRUCK. You can’t take it. You can’t!”
Sophia responded angrily, “Yes I can! It’s my truck too. I WILL play with it.” She stomped her foot in the snow.
I spoke to Sophia, “Yes, that’s true. It is both Joshua’s truck and your truck. But Joshua was playing with it when you took it. And now he’s upset. What could you do differently?”
Sophia looked at me defiantly. I could tell she was thinking about it. Joshua eyed the truck. He wanted it back.
Sophia got excited. “I have an idea! Joshua, can I play with the red truck for a little while and you play with the yellow truck? Then we can switch and both have time with each truck. Okay?”
Joshua thought about it, then smiled big. “Okay!” He giggled. Sophia joined in. I gave my giggly children the trucks and they happily cleared the snow together.
How I wish that sibling fights always ended this peacefully. It is definitely not the case! But in this instance, everything clicked, and I was able to see the parallel between my kids’ interactions and life lessons for playing well with others at work and in our lives. Here are three important takeaways:
1) Don’t take without asking. While it might seem obvious, this is a good reminder to reflect on how you relate to your colleagues. Are there instances in which you charge ahead on something before asking for input from others? Often, asking for suggestions and feedback before you get started (rather than after it’s done) can make a great difference in how people are willing to work with you.
2) Emotions are contagious. Research shows that we are wired to pick up subtle clues and literally catch emotions from one another, particularly people we pay a lot of attention to…like siblings or colleagues. When you are feeling angry, it can promote a feeling of anger in others. When you respond defensively and harden your position, your colleagues will likely do the same. And when you laugh, you may find others joining in. Be mindful of your feelings, and how they impact others. The calmer you are able to approach a situation, the more resourceful you can be.
3) When tension is high, pause and ask: What can I do differently here? We all get stuck in our adult version of tug-of-war, which doesn’t actually get us to any real solutions. When you notice that your emotions are at a boiling point, pausing to ask yourself this simple question can interrupt the dynamic, and produce new and creative ideas to solve the issue.