Listening to Children can Help with Adults

One of my favorite examples of enrollment is with children.  There are many different parenting styles.  Some are based on pressure, threat or cajoling.  Some on rewards.  All are effective in different ways.  I find the most effective though to be based on some type of enrollment – that is, talking to the child and hearing him fully; then addressing his agenda and making what you want fit within what is important to him.

Children often get an idea of what they want and they don’t let go of it.  Children, like adults, hold onto and repeat, what they want when they don’t feel heard.


Mom:  John, it’s time for you to clean your room.

John [age 9]:  I don’t want to.  I want to play!

[Often Mom’s reaction is to say something like, “Well you have to – we have guests coming and you need to clean your room so your friends can play in it.”  This usually leads to resistance because Mom hasn’t “heard” that John wants to play.  This is key with children and adults.]

Mom:  [Reflecting] I can see that you really want to play right now.

John:  Yeah; I just started putting this Lego building together.

Mom:  [Reflecting] It looks like you are creating a really cool building and it seems you are having a lot of fun.

John:  I am.

Mom:  [Curious] Do you want your friends to come over and play in your room?

[Note:  Because Mom is really curious, it would be okay if John said No.  Depending on her ultimate goal, they might agree the friends could play somewhere else, or not come over, or that John could clean an area for them to play in.]

John:  Yes.

Mom:  How do you think your room should look when they come?

John:  It’s fine like this.

Mom:  What will you all be doing in here?

John:  I think that we’ll throw my little basketball into the hoop on the door; and maybe we’ll look at some of my books.

Mom:  What will happen with the Lego’s?

John:  They might be in the way or my building might get destroyed.

Mom:  So what would you like to do?

[Note that mom is really just asking questions and listening to help John decide where to go.  Her agenda is not strictly that his room be cleaned, but that the room usable for his friends.  In this way, she can align herself with what he wants, which is essentially the same as what she wants.  Had she decided that she wants his room clean no matter what, she could have engaged in a different line of questions to see what was important to him and enroll him in cleaning his room.  For example, she might ask him how much longer he wanted to play or where he wanted his Lego’s to go.  It is true that in the end she has the authority to discipline, but she will get better results by finding out first what is really important to him and speaking to that as much as possible.]

How might you use this with adults?  In your business?

About the Author

Picture of Cami McLaren

Cami McLaren

is the owner of McLaren Coaching. She has been coaching professionals and leaders since early 2008. She runs Transformative Coaching Essentials, a coach training program that produces first rate Professional Coaches and "Coach-Style Leaders." She coaches individually and works with organizations to improve communication, time management, productivity and ultimately bring greater results.

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