Life at Perficient

7 Ways My 3 Year Old Improves My Relationships at Work

My wife and I met in college, married after 4 years, waited 13 years before having children, and we now have 2 daughters.   We have a 3-year-old (Maggie) and 18-month-old (Addie).  I knew that I would continue to grow as a parent, but had no idea the impact kids would have on my professional development and relationships .  I definitely have a better perspective on what all those work/life balance presentations were all about.

1.  Avoiding Tantrums at Target

I’m pretty sure every parent knows the consequences of a toddler in need of a nap, food, or change of scenery.   You know the 3-year-old is tired, but you just want to get in that quick errand to Target.  Next thing you know, you’re in the checkout line, trying to articulate why you are NOT going to buy that candy necklace hanging there at your child’s eye level.  It escalates, you feel embarrassed and frustrated, and set-up by the head of merchandising.   Two minutes into your drive home, she is out cold in the car seat, candy necklace everywhere, and you contemplate if you should even tell mom how it went.

The funny thing is that we make this mistake on a daily basis in the workplace with our colleagues, and only compound it when things get really busy.    We schedule meetings over lunch, we take that only 30 minute slot available on the calendar, and we send urgent e-mail requests at 4:30 pm assuming that they’ll be online later get it .   We focus on when we need things, rather than factoring in what others have on their plate or applying context on what else may be happening that day.  I have to remind myself to ask if this a good time to initiate this discussion?  Should this be a face to face meeting?  Does the person need a heads up this conversation is coming?  If you don’t think it through, you may be on the other side of a tantrum.

2.  Creative Time isn’t Just for Kids

All those years as a DINK (Dual Income, No Kids), I would get my best work done between 10:00pm and midnight.  There were no interruptions, I could turn on some tunes, focus, and crank out deliverables.   I have struggled a bit with the transition to a family-centered life and have to figure out a new daily rhythm.   My nights of productivity have been replaced by stumbling to the fridge in the middle of the night to fetch a bottle.   I’ve also learned that my girls are definitely more creative and excited to learn at certain times of day.

This applies to most of my clients as well.  For example, when defining the strategies and operating models like I mentioned in my first blog, Using a Simple Approach to Achieve your Strategic Goals, the timing of these conversations varied greatly by client.  For example, with one client, we did all of our strategic planning work in the morning and after 3:00 pm was off limits.   We usually had these meetings early in the week on Monday or Tuesday, by the end of the week he was totally fried and didn’t have the positive energy needed to talk about transforming the organization.    On the flip side, Friday afternoons work better for another client.  He finally has a chance to escape the day-to-day demands, the barrage of e-mails and urgent requests, to spend a few hours reflect on the organization and do some big picture thinking.

3.  When You Wet the Bed…  Get Cleaned Up, and Move On!

The first time Maggie wet the bed, she was kind of freaked out and we weren’t exactly ready for it (she was in our bed).  It took some time to get her to relax and she was really upset.  However, in the few times she did it after that, it really wasn’t a big deal because we didn’t make it a big deal.  I can be pretty hard on myself after I make a mistake or if I think that I could have done something better.  This can creep into how I work with others and I can let disappointments bring me down for way too long.

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As I teach a 3-year-old that accidents happen, that we clean up our spills, and we dust ourselves off, etc., I have to model the same mindset.   At work this means acknowledging mistakes, talking to team members and clients about what we can do better, and moving on.  After action reviews and real-time lesson learned sessions are great, just don’t let these things fester.   Maggie has been doing a good job of reminding me of this lately since she has chosen to carry around the book ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… And It’s All Small Stuff’, by Richard Carlson.   If she only knew!

4.  Discovering Who has the Screen Time Problem

I’m now in the world of trying to monitor and reduce screen time for our kids.  However,  I’m pretty sure I’m the one with the screen time problem, and I don’t know if I see it going away anytime soon.  More and more of our daily activities are done on our devices.  It’s more than social media and texting, and includes banking, taxes, calendars, volunteer work, watching sports.  Any more, it’s about reducing the number of screens in use at one time.  The shouts of “Daddy, Daddy, Daddy” are a clear indicator of when I am not present and distracted by my phone.  I’m pretty sure my adult co-workers know it as well, but don’t shout my name 3 times until I acknowledge them.  I spend hours of the business day in front of a computer and now many interactions with my business colleagues comes through texts.

So I try to win the battle by walking to someone’s desk rather than shooting them a message via Skype.  I try to make a personal call and leave a message.  Recently, a client answered my call with “Hey Tony!”, which I responded with a “So you have my number memorized?”.  The answer, “Nope, you are the only one that calls this number.”   I think you can differentiate yourself these days just by being present and making an effort to connect in person.

5.  Don’t Give Lame Answers to Good Questions

I am amazed at how quickly my 3-year-old can see through a quick, half-baked response to a question.   It doesn’t take a whole lot of extra time to explain something more clearly and provide a great learning opportunity.   I find myself wanting to provide better answers and taking the time to see where the conversation goes.  How often do we either provide or accept lame answers to some of our good questions at work?

We have an opportunity to really develop deeper relationships, share valuable knowledge, and learn new things.   So many times we are afraid to ask someone what an acronym means, or get a clarification in a meeting out of fear that others may think we are incompetent.  Chances are that you have a good question and you aren’t the only person that wants the answer.   Getting or providing good answers allows everyone involved to be more accountable for the overall outcome discussed.  The best part is that if it is truly a lame question, just like a 3-year-old, everyone moves on to the next thing.

6.  Be More Unscripted

I’m definitely not suggesting going around wearing pajamas and cowboy boots or insist on doing a twirls in your office chair.  (Which is awesome by the way, just hang out in your office for 2 minutes with a 3-year-old and I guarantee it happens at least once).  There is nothing better than watching toddlers just do their thing, learn something for the first time, try and make sense of the world, and get a kick out of the simple life.

I am finding the more unscripted that I am at work, the more that I am getting to know my colleagues.   It’s in these moments that we develop personal relationships and enjoy the day-to-day work that takes up such a large percentage of our time during the week.   That small talk in the elevator puts me in a much better mood than if I just stood there with everyone else staring at the doors.   Applying a little humor in a meeting engages team members to participate and makes it a comfortable environment to ask those good questions.   I tend to be a serial planner, basically ensuring that everything is in place the night before a big working session.  I get feedback from folks that they want more opportunity to contribute.   I’m learning being less scripted brings out more in others and relationships form naturally, contributing to overall better outcomes.

7.  Be Aligned as a Leadership Team

You would think that years of watching 80’s and 90’s family sitcoms (Growing Pains, Family Ties, The Cosby Show, Full House, etc.) that based hundreds of episodes on the consequence of parents not being aligned and being exploited by the kids would have sunk in.  Well, it turns out this is harder than it looks and my wife and are learning how to get on the same page to ensure we are reinforcing the right behaviors.  (I should definitely let my wife know that I am posting this blog).  It doesn’t take long to do, but making sure your aligned on intentions, behaviors, values, will help you set expectations on how your team operates.

The leadership team needs to take the time to get aligned when it comes to major things impacting the broader team.  I hear from team members that misaligned leadership and mixed messages annoys them more than the changes being relayed.   However, each leadership team member needs to be authentic and transparent in how they deliver the messages.  At the end of the day, we must be truly vested in the relationship and trust trumps everything… my 3-year-old is teaching me that!

About the Author

I’m an experienced management consultant and self-help junkie, that values personal connections in the workplace, uses self-deprecating humor, and aspires to be a great dad.

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Thoughts on “7 Ways My 3 Year Old Improves My Relationships at Work”

  1. Glenn F Miller

    Tony,

    Thanks for being vulnerable and highlighting that people are people – regardless of age or title, relationships drive society!

  2. Thanks for the insightful article. I have three girls, 5, 3, and 1. Your parallels between personal life with children and work life are spot-on and clever.

  3. Tony–I really enjoyed your blog post and have seen a thing or two I can do better. Appreciate the insight.

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