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How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber & Julie King

Sometimes we can find answers to questions in places we never considered looking. @Heather Kelly found this to be true when she picked up the book How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King. In Heather’s search to discover clever ways to communicate with her boys, she also realized the principles discussed in the book are entirely applicable when working with clients, employees, peers, and more. Heather shares in her review of Faber and King’s book their helpful explanation of where communication can break down and how to utilize deep listening to acknowledge feelings, engage in cooperation, and resolve conflict.

Reviewer: Heather Kelly, Life Coach Practitioner

Title: How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen (and Listen So Little Kids Will Talk)

Author: Joanna Faber & Julie King

Key Points:

1) Acknowledging Feelings: When someone is dealing with any sort of extreme emotion it can be hard to explain why they are in that state. In order to move past the initial emotion of it, it may be helpful to acknowledge the feelings that are being witnessed. “You seem [frustrated, upset, angry etc] do you want to talk about it?” Rather than jumping in with a “what’s wrong?” There is no invitation with a phrases like, “what’s wrong” but instead an expectation and an assumption that there is something wrong and you need to know about it. After they have moved past the initial feelings they may be more inclined to open up. Once they do, be sure to avoid minimizing the problem or dismissing the severity of the reaction, such as “Oh, that’s not so bad, you’ll get over it”. It also is likely not going to be very fruitful to use logic and explanation to reason the emotion away such as “There’s nothing you can do about it so you might as well just move on.” Once the feeling is there it may take some time to let the emotion settle before there can be progress made in getting past it. Just let them be with their feeling by creating space, acknowledging their feelings as reality and giving them an invitation to open up when they are ready.

2) Engaging Cooperation: In the case of trying to get someone to cooperate when they might otherwise not want to, it is helpful to give them as much information and choice as possible. Describe the problem, describe your dilemma. With children, it can be helpful to be playful and creative to get them to act when they are not inclined to (i.e. Me trying to get my 3 1/2 year old dressed this morning meant that I had to make his teddy bear pretend to be trying to attack him; I’m not sure why that worked, kids are weird). Since I don’t know of any adults that would find that trick particularly helpful, I think the tactic of providing information and offering choice is a good way to appeal to a grownup.

3) Resolving Conflict: While the examples in the book involve things like a parent getting upset about a child coloring on a wall I think there is a good application of resolving conflict with adults as well! This one is probably more applicable in a manager-as-coach relationship but still helpful to note. Rather than saying phrases like “You know better” or being accusatory, give people the ability to own their missteps and make amends themselves. Give them space and safety to own up to actions done in error. By fostering an environment of psychological safety, people are more likely to continue to learn, communicate and improve on their own, independent of critique or ridicule to point out their flaws. The book goes further to suggest ways to problem solve with your child; me to my 3 1/2 year old “I don’t like stinky boys, we need to get you into the bath but you don’t want to, we need ideas?” I think that a version of this can work with adults as well.

Application to Life Coaching:

The application of these ideas to life coaching is all about helping people feel safe, heard and respected. Creating an environment where people can feel that they are able to feel their feelings, get an invitation to participate and share as they wish and to have the ability to do their own learning and growing at their own pace.

Favorite passage and what made it my favorite?

“When you have a problem with an adult—say, for example, you have a friend who's always borrowing things and returning them late or broken or not at all—you probably don't think about how you can punish that person. You think about how to respectfully protect yourself. You don't say, "Now that you've given me back my jacket with a stain on it, and broken the side mirror off my car, I'm going to . . . slap you." That would be assault. Or ". . . lock you in your room for an hour." That would be imprisonment. Or ". . . take away your smart phone." That would be theft. You'd probably say something like, "I don't feel comfortable lending you clothes anymore. I get very upset when they come back damaged. And, I can't lend you my car, which I just got repaired. I need to have it in working condition. In fact, I'd appreciate some help with the repair bill!”

I like how this passage so clearly points out how some of the “logic” we use with children would never work with adults. It helped me envision how to transform communication to be more neutral and less accusatory, less expecting and more invitational.

How will you apply the key messages in this book within my coaching?

I think these are areas I’m already practicing but seemed like such good reminders for how to communicate and listen with people. For instance, when reading the section on acknowledging feelings, I talked to my husband about when I’m upset and he jumps right into showing me the silver lining or trying to problem solve for me I feel so dismissed, like me feelings aren’t relevant. Even though I know he’s trying to be caring and helpful it always ends up making me more emotional (mad, sad, frustrated!) I told him it would be much better if he would start with a simple, “do you want to tell me how your feeling?” Or a “you’re really frustrated, wanna tell me about it?” I think this is exactly the posture we are to take as coaches. Invitational, not expectant and always open to weathering their messy-ness.

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