Everyone is a Gatekeeper

March 5, 2013

By Laurie Clarke, COO, The Tatham Group

This morning began as every other morning with one exception. My daughter decided she did not want to go to preschool today. “You will have fun!” She shook her head.  “Today is ballet class…you don’t want to miss that do you?”  We’ve moved to ignoring now.  “Don’t you want to play with your friends? They would miss you if you weren’t there today.” She now slowly removes her clothing in protest. Sigh.

We have reached the point where one of two things can happen: I can continue this way or change my approach. The outcome will be the same  – she will spend the day at school. However the various paths to get there look drastically different and can alter all of our moods for the day. Do I resort to an incentive in the form of candy? Or do I threaten to take away a favourite toy? Should I explain to her that I’m in a hurry and she really does need to cooperate?

Then as if by divine intervention, these words of wisdom from Marilyn Ferguson show up in my inbox.  “No one can persuade another to change. Each of us guards a gate of change that can only be opened from the inside. We cannot open the gate of another, either by argument or by emotional appeal.” And the lightbulb goes off. Or more accurately the 2×4 hits me in the forehead. I know this. I teach this.  And yet in a moment of time-pressured stress I faltered. I slipped into the easier path for me which turns into the hardest path for everyone.

So I decided to place incentives and threats to the side and try something different. I asked my adorably stubborn and naked three year old why she didn’t want to go to school today. With some open dialogue and a little, okay a LOT of patience on both our parts, we got to the root cause of her anti-school position. Are you ready for it? Her dance clothes make her itchy.

All of my pleading, bargaining and reasoning was not going to address that problem. And the solution was simple, quick and effective. Finding the root cause is a powerful thing and definitely worth the effort to discover. It is the path less travelled because it is difficult especially when looking for the cause of human behaviour. But that root cause is the key to a person opening their gate of change and our understanding of it creates a safe environment for them to do so.

We were both smiling and happy as we moved one step closer to the front door. Smooth sailing right up until the time we needed to put snow pants on.  This time I was quick with the questions and discovered that “Ballerinas don’t wear snow pants!” Who knew?


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  • Ken Berger

    Thanks for the great insight Laurie. And thanks for putting a smile on my face.

    • Colleen Murphy

      Brings back memories, Laurie! This story fits in perfectly with the Customer Experience Roadmap training that my team just took. It shows that using open-ended questions and pressing for specifics really works. Thank you for sharing!

  • Travis

    Invaluable story and life lesson indeed! This is yet another example of why & how essential it is to get to the root cause! Thank-You!

  • Tatham Group

    Thank you for the comments. Happy it reinforced a learning and made people smile. It was also a great reminder for me that my children are teaching me as much as I set out to teach them. Probably more if I really listen.