Leadership Lessons From A Toddler – Sometimes People Are Just Irrational

If you have ever had to raise a toddler than you are likely familiar with tantrums. For those of you who haven’t ever had a child may have been in a grocery store where suddenly a calm cute cherub suddenly turns into the demon child from Hell. There is actually several physiological reasons for tantrums that are completely out of the child’s control that you may find interesting but that wasn’t the point of this article. My point is that we can learn from these screaming banshees: sometimes people are just irrational!

That jerk customer that shouted obscenities at you as you were checking out their items? The employee who blew up over a small critique? Your boss who took what you felt was a very understandable and a small error way out of proportion? All have what I will call “toddler syndrome”.

Does that mean they are being immature? Not necessarily. We are all human and sometimes we don’t handle things the best way we should emotionally. I’m guilty of it a time or two myself. Just ask my husband. There are a lot of reasons for it with the top one being stress. Often that stress has very little to do with you and a lot to do with a pile-up going on in their lives. So how to handle the blow ups?

1. Take a moment to breathe and say nothing

This is a good thing to do for both toddlers and those caught in the grip of irrational explosions. It can be very, very easy to want to defend, explain, or shout back. And if you are like me and feel emotions deeply, this takes a LOT of practice. And guess what? That’s okay. If you can recognize your instinctive response, you can train to stop even if you aren’t perfect at it to start.

2. Let them vent 

Number 1 is more about not REACTING while Number 2 is more about ACTIVE LISTENING. Active Listening is truly hearing what they are saying. If the customer is upset because you you didn’t bag something in the way they wanted, don’t be afraid to listen to the feedback. Does it mean they are right? Yes in the sense that they believe it but  it doesn’t make their emotional explosion rational for the situation.

3. Repeat back the concerns they outlined

Number 3 is part of Active Listening in that you are engaging with them as to why they are upset. Do so in a way that makes sure they understand you are genuine and do not start it until the person has completely vented and is ABLE to listen. There is a physiological response when we get so angry “we can’t think” in that we really can’t think or listen. We PHYSICALLY can’t (and neither can two year olds). Remember, we are in the business of helping others regardless if they are customers, our bosses, or our toddlers.

  • Acknowledge the emotionI understand you feel happy/sad/upset/angry/disappointed etc. 
  • Acknowledge the situation or error – as a result of not folding your clothes correctly/ not agreeing with the feedback given/ due to the mistake made with xyz. 
  • Acknowledge any resolution steps – I would be happy to fold the clothes in a way that fits your preference if you could tell me how? / Can you tell me more about what feedback you felt was unfair and why? / I am taking the following steps to ensure that this mistake does not occur again. 

Now with a toddler, the development level of their brain is such that they cannot process things while in tantrum and depending on the age may be too young to understand fully but they understand calm. They understand emotions. It isn’t easy and it takes practice but staying calm and addressing things in a simple 1, 2, 3 method can go a long way in calming down both toddlers and irrational explosions (including your own).

image credited to the Huffington Post

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