Reassurance

While I find it a little hard to believe, the boy's nightly routine has clearly made me more approachable at the day job. The implementation differs, but the similarities I see between putting a two year-old boy to sleep is not much different from working with middle managers. This isn't to say that those unfortunate souls sandwiched between C-Level1 managers and local managers act like children2, or that my son acts like a middle-aged adult. They're quite different in a number of regards. What the two have in common, though, is the requirement for specific questions and regular reassurance.

When the boy goes to bed, I generally stay with him for about half an hour so that he can settle down and get ready for sleep. We read some books. He signs a song or two. I tuck him in and arrange his toys in a manner so that he can reach them without becoming untucked. Questions are asked with every activity. "Which book would you like to read first?", "Do you like the bear in this story?", "What song are you signing?", "Where would you like your raccoon3?". The questions encourage dialog and give him the illusion of control. Once everything is set up and done, I'll rub his chest and wish him good night before heading downstairs to continue working.

Every so often, though, he'll start to cry shortly after because … who knows? At this point I need to go upstairs, ask how he's doing4, then calm him down by saying everything's okay and that he's safe. Sometimes I'll need to tuck him in again. Sometimes he'll ask for something and, so long as it's within reason, I'll get it for him. This process might repeat three, four, or five times on any given night depending on how tired the boy is. The more tired, the longer it takes for him to sleep.

Patience is an absolute must when working with children. The world is full of unknowns and they lack the knowledge, skills, and experience to make sense of it all. It's hardly any wonder that kids need consistent feedback and reassurance.

One thing that I've noticed over the last couple of months is that a lot of the management team at the day job also needs consistent feedback and reassurance. With the global project being in full swing and rapidly approaching the next critical phase, people are understandably anxious and nervous. People's weekends are at stake if anything goes wrong. People's bonuses, too. An endless stream of emails hit the inbox daily from people who have a lot of vague, superfluously-worded questions that boil down to the same underlying query: Are we okay?

Just as with the boy, I've found myself responding to messages like this by first clearly outlining the current status of my team's tasks, then asking some specific yes/no questions that are related to the reader, followed immediately by some follow-up information or an answer. In one of today's emails, this looked like:

… Did you have a chance to read the weekly summary report that {person} sent out Monday evening? She's about three days ahead of schedule on her end, so we should be ready to start testing the new data before the weekend. If that's too early for you, then we can stick with the current timeline and begin testing next Tuesday.

A year or two ago I would have likely been much more direct and to the point, answering just the questions I was asked without thinking about the underlying reason for those questions. What's worse is that I would tend to give answers in context, providing details that would have an email stretch on for several paragraphs beyond the point a person might stop. The context I provided was only for the answer, but people aren't interested in the answer. They're interested in the answer to the question they didn't specifically ask: Is everything okay?

This is probably something that "everybody" discovers at a young age, however, I've not been very successful in learning how to better interact with people until the last couple of years and there's still a lot I don't understand. Fortunately there is still time to catch up.


  1. CEO, CIO, COO, etc.

  2. Well …

  3. He has a stuffed toy raccoon, not a real animal. He's given this character the name "Chilli", but I can't for the life of me figure out why.

  4. It's a rhetorical question, but it encourages him to try and voice why he's upset.