Things that should stay in kindergarten

Remember when Robert Fulghum wowed us with the simplicity and common sense of “All I Really Need To Know I Learned in Kindergarten?” Such basic ideas: Share everything. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess.

Sometimes basic behavior from kindergarten days is not so good. You know, the acting out that was gently corrected by Miss Jennifer several times over. Yet some oddly familiar behaviors crop up in offices and boardrooms, with a whipsaw effect — “did that really just happen?” — because they are so retrograde. Right back to the playground. Does your office ring with any of these terms?

“Make me.”  The recalcitrant three-year-old who is testing his limits and learning the power of saying no — arbitrarily, too often, and usually with a pout involved. The words may vary, but the meaning is the same. And your urge to put that person in a time-out is justified. Perhaps the time-honored parental trick of offering two choices might work: “You have the option to do this, or to clear out your desk. Which do you choose?”

“Did not.”  When things start to fall apart, some people still have the instinct to deny. It can be tricky if your organizational culture tolerates blaming or denying (and that’s something you’ll want leadership to think about fixing). In the meantime, “did not” is a diversion. See if you can’t turn this into a blame-free zone just for the moment and stay focused on your original project, question or idea.

“But she started it.”  Close cousin to “did not,” this is almost always unspoken, and between two people. It’s the silent simmering that makes it poisonous. You don’t care who started it, you want it over. Take the two off into a different room — or to lunch or for drinks, whatever will break the pattern — and talk to them about the big picture. The health of the workplace (and your organization’s success) depends on uncovering the adult in these two. Give them a chance to hear the other’s perspective. Then ask them to imagine three scenarios where they will have to work closely together in the future, and get them to visualize how they’re going to do that differently, better. And if they are key to your team and the relationship is still not working, get a professional to intervene.