Openness, eagerness, and a total lack of shame. These are some of the qualities that make children better communicators than adults.
Children are imaginative, innovative, they’re unafraid of failure, and they’re completely unashamed when it comes to sharing their strengths, weaknesses and ideas; no matter how bad they are. Working with junior primary aged children, I see it often and it seems to me that kids work better in group activities than most adults. How do they make it look so natural, so effortless, when many of us find working with others a struggle?
As a 6-year-old, Zane’s task is to work with three other children to create a poster of an Australian animal; the ‘Blue tongue lizard’. Zane has trouble reading and is afraid of using scissors. Now, a 35 year old in a similar position, might recognise these shortcomings and hide. Not Zane…
Zane automatically picks up the information sheet and passes it to Sebastian, asking him to read it aloud. He then listens closely and contributes to discussion about why the lizard is so cool. When Ava asks Zane to cut out pictures, he tells her outright that he’s not comfortable with scissors and would like to paste the pictures on instead. Sebastian quickly sets everyone in motion with Ava writing the title, himself and Oliver cutting out the text and pictures, finishing with Zane gluing them in place. No arguments, no shame, no stress. They completed the task. They leant on each other, accepting their own strengths and weaknesses and recognising one anothers’. No one was made to feel left out, and everyone contributed in their own way.
Adults in a similar situation often aren’t as open or honest. Most of us would try our best to hide our weaknesses, trying to only showcase the best of ourselves, our strengths. Rather than learning to accept our weaknesses alongside our strengths, we prevent ourselves from growing as people and getting stronger together as a team.
I’m sure you can think of a time you’ve avoided conflict because it felt easier to hide from it than to confront the issue. It festers and starts to taint other interactions. If we could learn to communicate more openly and honestly when conflict rears up, as children do, we and our workplaces would be much better off.
Take this pair of children as they enjoyed a day at the beach, building sand castles, splashing and running up and down sand dunes. Millie, in her excitement of the day, runs over the towels, laid out in the sun.
Xander calls to Mille, “Hey! I’m mad at you!”
Millie, confused asks, “Why?”
“Because you stood on my towel,” he tells her.
“Did it hurt you?” she asks.
“No, but it’s mine and it makes me sad that it has sand on it now.”
“I’ll help you get it off.”
Together, the two of them shake the towel. With all the sand off, Xander was happy again and both went back to enjoying their day. No negative feelings were clung to. The problem was dealt with directly and solved by working together.
Children are good communicators about their emotions because they are honest and open with each other. They want to resolve problems and don’t tiptoe around their feelings. How many of us can say the last time we were open like Millie and Xander in solving a problem without exacerbating it?
We can glean more on how we as adults can learn from children in Tom Wujec’s Ted Talk on the Marshmallow Tower challenge. Tom explains that the tallest and most innovative towers were built by kindergarteners, while lawyers, business school students or CEOs, built towers that collapsed. The kids got stuck into the problem, built prototypes and tested every step of the way, while the adults got sidetracked by planning, politicking and politeness. Being open, brave and unashamed, the kids were able to be more innovative and productive in the challenge. Isn’t this something we would all like to improve upon?
As adults, maybe we can re-learn how to be open and communicate better with each other, to accept our own strengths and weaknesses, and to recognise and support others by following the example of children. Could it be this simple? I don’t see why it shouldn’t be! Team building games can bring us back to that openness and willingness that we had as children. Maybe if we played more often, we too could be better communicators and team players.
In my spare time, I’m a scout leader and I get to see and be a part of the ways children interact and communicate with each other. They have taught me how to let go of negative emotions and accept my weaknesses. I have learnt to be a better communicator because of them and it’s something I am thankful for.
If you're interested in improving openness, communication and teamwork, take a look at some of our team building games .