As managers, we are often asked our opinion and sometimes even considered an authority in our particular area of expertise. Most find this gratifying and usually try to improve our skills if we have ambitions to become more successful.
When asked a question we don’t know the answer to, that is where the integrity rubber hits the road. Do we admit we don’t know, offer to find out and risk looking uninformed, or do we bluff our way through it and hope like mad that we haven’t given someone detrimental information or advice?
Integrity, the strength of character and the courage to say, “I don’t know,” will be the determining factors in that choice.
As a parent, I have found it transparent, tension relieving and even a teaching moment to say, “I don’t know…let’s find out.” I believe that I can model the willingness to admit my ignorance in that area and get to learn something new when I do it. But wait, you say, “Your kids are out of or at college…why do you need to keep modeling and teaching?”
Because parenting never ends.
For those of you with newborns and toddlers, that may be the very last thing you wanted to hear right now, but it is truth if you are a good parent. Parenting changes and becomes much more of a mentoring function as they grow up and become independent, but they are still learning a great deal from observing and questioning you.
Our younger daughter started blogging about her nursing school experience, keeping a sense of humor about the overwhelming amount of information she was stuffing into her mind, and the funny things that can happen when people take care of other people. She was clever, insightful and never hurtful in her humorous comments, but along the way, something surprising happened.
Followers connected with her through the blog and started asking her questions and for her advice.
Whoa! She had to think this through as the questions poured in, and as I read her blog, I am in awe of the strong, articulate and accepting person we have raised. She always prefaces her answers to her readers with the fact that she is in nursing school at this time, is not a medical professional yet, and can only share her personal experience with them.
It seems to be just what they were looking for, and I am continually impressed by the maturity, warmth, and integrity of her answers. She knows her own mind but is not afraid to let others express theirs.
So, how do you raise children who know their own minds, but can listen to other opinions respectfully?
(Think about the present political landscape and I am sure you see the need!) I am not sure I know the secret code, but I do think that intelligent conversation on a regular basis (over dinner, perhaps?) and listening to their opinions as they form them helps a great deal. The trick from the beginning is not to quash opinions that can be incredibly misguided or wrong but to question gently until they figure that out and form their own new and informed opinions.
Never tease a pre-teen or teenager about their opinions (or much else, for that matter). Trust me on this. At that age, they are like people with their skin inside out and the most innocent thing you can say (teasing particularly) is like lemon juice on an open wound. They will take it so personally and become so angry, their rage and hurt will take your breath away with its intensity and sudden appearance.
As they grow, try to listen most, ask questions second and give advice not at all; unless they ask for it. Express your pleasure at their quick minds and great reasoning skills when they think things through. Effective reasoning is like math. You build from a simple concept to a more complicated one as you grow. If you just override their opinions, you have taught them nothing but authority is always right and their thoughts don’t merit discussion. This is a great way to cause your kids to rebel because they feel devalued and unsafe, or to become followers who will accept the strongest person’s rhetoric in the room as “right.”
Neither is an attractive option for our family and we would rather have “respectful questioners,” who may cause people to rethink their positions because they have not been put on the defensive. A phrase heard often in our house as the girls have become older and we sometimes have opinions quite different from each other is, “We will have to agree to disagree on this one.”
Here’s hoping we are raising the independent thinkers of tomorrow, who will admit when they don’t know, question, reason and come up with better solutions than any generation before them!