A Tale of Poo

Q: How can we best influence others? A: By being a systemic guide. Let me share an example:

A stock of Poo. source

Lydia is the 4 year-old daughter of a friend. My friend had asked me to look after Lydia for the day whilst she attended to appointments. Lydia’s mum and I both have horses so we have to spend time each day “poo picking” in our fields. Lydia and I were picking up poo in a field together when the following situation arose:

L: Sitting down - “I’m bored. I don’t like doing this. I want to do something else.”

I really needed her to stay where she was and help with the work. So how could I achieve that? I realised I had 4 options?

1. I could threaten her with future punishments or bad outcomes. For example, I could say I would tell her mum she had been naughty and she would get put to bed early or something; 2. I could bribe her with future rewards or rosy outcomes. For example, I could say that I knew it was hard but if she continued then afterwards I would give her something nice like an ice-cream or play a game of her choice; 3. I could explain to her the rationale for doing it and hope that she would understand and comply; or, 4. I could try to reason with her and help her to reach her own conclusions about alternative courses of action and their consequences.

This is the dialogue that ensued:

Me: Sitting down next to L – “Do you think I enjoy this?”

L: “Don’t know. Do you?”

Me: “No l don’t. That’s not why I do it. Can you think why I do it despite not enjoying it?”

L: “Don’t know. Cos you’re stupid.”

Me: “I can assure you I am not stupid! Let’s look at this a different way. What would happen if I didn’t do it?”

L: Pauses then eyes light up “The field would be full of pooh”

Me: “Yes and does that matter?”

L: “Mummy says that the horses can get poorly feet from standing in pooh.”

Me: “Yes. And would there be anything else?”

L: More animated “The grass would be covered in pooh!”

Me: “Yes. Good thinking. What would that mean?”

L: Sadly “ There would be nothing for the horses to eat”

Me: “Does that matter?”

L: Upset “The horses would be unhappy. They like to eat grass. They would be hungry.”

Me: “So what! I’m with you Lydia. Let’s go and have some fun.”

L: Upset “the horses would be sad and thin with nothing to eat”

Me: “So what do you think we should do?”

L: “We should pick up the pooh”

Me: “I’m really proud of you. I think you’ve made a great choice for the right reasons. Well done.”

This is how to win hearts and minds: By leading individuals to make better choices. We build commitment and energy by recognising the value of the things we do, however small, and doing them for this reason. Not because we are bribed with money or promises or out of guilt or fear. In my experience facilitating better choices works longer term than “I’ll tell your mum” or “I’ll give you a sweetie if you do it”.

The same applies in any situation where we are trying to motivate others whether at home or at work. “I’ll give you more money” or “do it otherwise I’ll fire (or leave) you” may get what you want in the short term but is unlikely to be successful in the long run.

Once we start to see our relationships as systems we can understand that we are not victims and that we have the power to make a difference.

So what is getting in the way?

I told Lydia's tale to a head teacher in a Primary school and she told me this:

“Yes I couldn’t agree more but this little girl will not progress in her thinking this way unless the vast majority of adults she comes into contact with follow this lead. Many will close this lead and close down her choices. She will be expected to acquiesce and unquestionably asked to “tow the line” often without explanation both in the home and the school situation. They then become unable to make choices – the choices are all made for them”

Notice those words "in the home". It isn't only in the home, it is everywhere. We need to keep reminding ourselves that we are all teachers and learners all our lives. It is a big responsibility. We influence every living being we are in contact with. Think about it.....