What I Learned About Teamwork From This Classic Parenting Book

‘How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk’ might be the management guide we all need

Herbert Lui
Forge
Published in
4 min readSep 4, 2020

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Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

While we don’t have to help our colleagues tie shoes or remind them to FaceTime Grandma (that’d be weird), parenting skills can translate surprisingly well in the workplace.

I don’t have kids myself, but I was curious when Julie Zhuo, a former vice president of design at Facebook and a mom of three, tweeted that she learns as much or more about improving teamwork from parenting books as she does from books about management. “I find kids present a more extreme version of the same kinds of interpersonal challenges that a colleague/friend/report would,” she writes.

On a recommendation from a parent, I picked up a copy of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, a classic manual of communication strategies — and found plenty of strategies I could use in my role as an entrepreneur. It turns out that whether we’re speaking to a team member or a child, the goal is often the same: We want to bring out the best in the other person.

Here are three tactics from the book, which you might find as useful as I did for communicating in the professional world.

Instead of praising, describe

You’ve probably heard your fair share of teamwork platitudes like “Great work!” Listen, the Mona Lisa is great work. My work is typically acceptable at best, and this generic remark makes me question the praiser’s sincerity.

In How to Talk, Faber and Mazlish write that praise can also lead to denial (“You think my performance was excellent, but you should have seen all the time I spent practicing!”), trigger anxiety (“Will my next presentation be as good?”), or feel like manipulation (“Okay, this is too much — what does this person want from me?”). The authors write: “Sometimes, the most well-meant praise brings about unexpected reactions.”

But the key to genuine praise that avoids these reactions is simple: Describe what you liked about the person’s work. Was it a specific idea that you’d never heard before? The effort that was put…

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Herbert Lui
Forge
Writer for

Covering the psychology of creative work for content creators, professionals, hobbyists, and independents. Author of Creative Doing: https://www.holloway.com/cd