I was watching an exchange between a few kids in a swimming pool the other day. Three had originally brought a float to the pool that was now being occupied by three others of similar ages.
The original owners decided they wanted their float back. So, one of the float owners politely asked the current occupants to please move so they could play on their float. But, she wasn’t getting much traction.
Just as this threatened to escalate into a fight, one of the dads of the temporary occupants stepped in. He told the kids that he was a sea monster and would give the kids 15 seconds to get on the float.
This resulted in a lot of squealing. But, before you knew it, all six kids were on the float and having a great time.
Tact is powerful.
When we picture wars through history, we often picture two armies clashing against each other – i.e. a frontal assault. Frontal assaults rely on raw power and lose effectiveness over time because of their predictability. I remember seeing a stat that said <5% of all wars fought involved frontal assaults.
That makes sense. Force and raw power tend to be most effective when used sparingly.
You see this all the time in interactions between parents and children. Parents who employ the frontal assault strategy may win a few battles – but, inevitably, lose the war. The dominant strategy when faced with war tends to be tact (to look for ways to avoid it if possible) and surprise.
I’ve written about my struggles with tact from time to time here. I tend to impulsively fight fire with fire – a really bad strategy in any confrontation. Luckily, parenting a 2 year old has provided a great training ground to improve my skills.
As with most things in life, making the change is not about shutting down that rush of blood when my lymbic brain senses an imminent confrontation. Instead, it is channeling that rush of blood to work on a tactful response/creating a surprising distraction.
This is no different from the principle of separating reaction from response. But, then again, principles are easier said than done. And, making them second nature requires plenty of tactical experimentation.
Here’s to that.