How frequently do you all play farm? No, just me? Ok well then allow me to let you in on this riveting game that is played in my house at least once a day every single day of the week. Playing farm is when you drag out every single truck, trailer, tractor, combine, grain bin, silo, cow, horse, pig, fence post, you get the picture. You set everything up across the living room while creating an elaborate backstory for your family that includes 10 kids, older brothers who race dirt bikes and show animals at the fair, and own multiple pieces of property designated for specific purposes. Then the really fun part, you spend the rest of the time (often to your parents horror) acting out all of the goings on of adult life as you see it through your little eyes. I have had the opportunity to play farm in which we were traveling to a new property we had just purchased when I was sharply told to “sit down, close your mouth, and buckle your seatbelt or we’re not going anywhere.” Well, that was an eye opener. There have also been countless times where we head from the farm to the local supper club and my toddler belly’s up to the coffee table and says “I’ll take some chicken nuggets and a Mommy beer please.” Cool, I mean at least he has good taste.
I have had some proud moments playing farm as well. Recently we were getting everything set up and I was in charge of livestock. There wasn’t much for animals out for this session so I decided we’d have a dairy farm and set all of the cows out to pasture. I started setting all the cows to face each other (difficult when you’re trying to get tiny animals to stand in shag carpeting) when my son announced that cows don’t stand like that, “What are they even doing?” Without really thinking I just said, “They’re having a meeting.” I wanted there to be a reason so I wouldn’t have to move the perfectly balanced cows. He considered it and came back with, “Well, if there is a meeting on the farm don’t you think the sheep and the donkey should be there?” “Sure,” I told him, “the circle is pretty full though. They can stand in the back.” “No mom,” he looked at me a little confused, “we can just make a bigger circle.”
It is both exciting and terrifying how much these little sponges pick up. Not only that but the context they understand it in. They don’t understand that I said, “Ok can we all get buckled?” three times before I lose my cool start making threats, because as every parent knows whatever came out of your mouth on the fourth try doesn’t count. They remember that we typically do get to threat stage and the things that made them feel something. They remember that they were scared when we yelled in the truck and that they were happy and excited as we started ordering food and drinks. They remember when we made them feel included and made a “bigger circle” for them. They understand consistency and remember how they felt; then they apply it to their games and their lives. The application doesn’t come because of intentionally striving for growth. Most of it comes from them remembering life as they understand it and assuming it is right and normal. Every day they are being taught these things as we go through life. So what does that mean for us adults? What should we be gleaning from this? Two things, consistency influences and follow the emotion.
The kids are being taught through everyday life, and so are we. We like to think we learn and develop from intentional things, we attend a course, we research a topic, we seek out an expert. It might be ok to recognize that kids learn through what they are surrounded by, they are young and impressionable after all, but we don’t want to think of ourselves that way. I am an independent thinking, critically discerning, person we tell ourselves. I seek out the truth and am not swayed (we stand a little taller and puff out our chest a bit). Hate to break it to you, but it’s time to step down off that soap box and admit it, you are influenced by what you’re surrounded by every single day, so is your team. That is why you can’t do a one-and-done training and expect people to change a behavior, you have to model and drive the change. “Make a bigger circle” didn’t just coincidently fall out of my son’s mouth, inclusion is a value we model every day. Are you modeling the behaviors you want to see in those around you? Or are you telling people they should attend Diversity and Inclusion training and then going about your normal day without living it out? What other values are you hoping those in your sphere of influence will adopt? Ask yourself honestly, are you living them consistently?
Follow the emotion
Adults are not that advanced from kids. I know we’d all like to assume we’re smarter than these children, and in some ways we are. We can usually make the link between how our actions, choosing not to listen the first three times our boss explained how they wanted the work done, contributed to the end result, them being irritated that the standard wasn’t met. I say usually because who among us hasn’t been personally offended when we get pulled over forgetting that it was in fact us who chose to drive 80 mph on the highway. We have a bit more understanding around how we got somewhere but how we feel in a situation still drives our understanding. If we leave late and then follow a car doing the speed limit, we understand that we’re still late because we left late but we aim our frustration at the person in front of us because our emotion is saying that they are now the problem. If we are experiencing some pain at work that we then only voice to our buddies over drinks, we understand (usually) that the problem cannot be corrected because we’re not sharing it with the right people but we typically expand our anger to include the problem and those who aren’t fixing it. Keep that in mind when you’re working with people, connect the message and lesson you’re trying to convey with an emotion. You can do this a few ways, by creating an emotion with the message itself (this takes skill in understanding how to create the message), showing vulnerability in the emotion the topic makes you feel (share honestly from your heart), or capitalizing on an emotion the person or the group is having (help them direct why they feel that way and what a solution would be linked to a value you want to impress).
Your teammates aren’t children but they are still driven by consistency and emotion. Telling them to do something like “Put the customer first,” “Act ethically,” “Strive for continuous improvement,” and any other typical company value won’t have an impact unless you model it, draw the connection of others modeling it, and attach an emotional component. That is why it is so important to practice the lessons you want them to take away and make them feel it.