Want Cooperation?

My sister came for a visit from out of state and, by her example, reminded me of a principle that I had sort of forgotten. And how powerful it is! It works with everyone, young and old, but it is especially effective for getting cooperation from children.

My sister asked my teenage son to tell her about his interest, which is botany. I heard them in the kitchen discussing all the things he planted this year in his garden, and which varieties were unusual and how Spanish peanuts have a bright orange-colored blossom, how his kohlrabi should be harvested when it is 3-4″ in diameter, and other details. He got out his seed packets and explained each one to her. I mentally worried that he was boring her.

Was she interested? In botany: no. In my son: yes. She listened, asked questions, gave full focused attention. It took a 1/2 hour of her time, but that investment always pays back a hundred-fold. She did it because she cares, but the result always amazes me. Even though she didn’t do it to get his cooperation, cooperation and devotion are always the fruit of sincere interest and listening to another person.

If you have a teenager that is dragging her feet, or a preschooler that doesn’t want to obey, the natural tendency is to strong-arm them a bit via lecture, threats, loss of privileges or other means: “if you don’t get your dishes done, then you won’t be going to the party!” That approach just increases negative feelings. The direct route to cooperation is building the relationship, giving your time and attention. It takes time, maybe time we feel we don’t have to spare. But in the long-run, it is so worth it. The pay-off is enormous!

 

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