Redundant Communication

I’ve had several conversations in recent weeks with students and parents about the dreaded acronym: G.P.A. Many students are below the 3.0 requirement for the program and several others, while above 3.0, are not where they would like to be to get into their dream college. Most of the time, we are talking about a few basic fundamentals for success in school: effective time management, being present in class, paying attention, and asking questions. These are not revolutionary strategies, and most students have heard them repeatedly over their school career from parents and teachers. Still, for many students, it’s not sinking in.

This inability (or unwillingness) to mind seemingly simple advice is no different than my four-year-old punching his brother in the back whenever he gets frustrated, despite my and Andrea’s repeated pleas and punishments. He hears me when I tell him, he understands it’s wrong, but he keeps doing it. Likewise, despite your demands, your 14-year-old keeps checking her phone when her teacher is explaining an important concept. So what do I do with my son to help him stop punching his brother? What do you do with your sophomore daughter who won’t submit work even though she knows it’s hurting her grade, no matter how many times you beg her?

It turns out a person needs to hear something between 10 and 20 times before it sinks in (after 20 times it becomes counterproductive). But there is a catch here. Harvard Business professor Tsedal Neeley concluded in a study of “redundant communication” in organizations, that employees were much more likely to change their behavior in response to messages from those who were not in a position of authority.

So let’s extrapolate this out to students: we know that parents and teachers are authority figures. So yes, and you’ve heard it from me many times: these messages need to be coming from peers and mentors.

This is not to suggest that parents shouldn’t have direct conversations with their kids about, for example, subpar grades from the first semester. And yes, sometimes good old-fashioned nagging is just fine (otherwise I never would have cleaned my room when as a kid). But also look for those other people in your kids’ lives who don’t hold any authority over them and let them deliver these important messages multiple times and in multiple ways.

And of course, we must keep in mind that some kids just aren’t ready to change their behavior until it they’re ready, no matter what anyone else does or says.

Now you’ll have to excuse me. James just punched Sam in the back again.

Sources

“It’s Not Nagging: Repetition is Effective Communication” Jojarth, Martin.

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/its-nagging-repetition-effective-communication-marton-jojarth/

“How Managers Use Multiple Media: Discrepant Events, Power, and Timing in Redundant Communication” Neeley, et al.

https://pubsonline.informs.org/doi/abs/10.1287/orsc.1110.0638

Making Big Decisions

With the May 1st college decision deadline quickly approaching, I’ve been talking to seniors a lot about plans for next year. Consider this familiar scenario: A student has been accepted to their dream school out of state, but will have to pay $20,000/year. They’ve also been accepted to a great school that was third on their list, but will pay nothing. While you may have your own ideas about the “right” decision, in reality there are compelling reasons for both. Some would argue the more expensive dream school is a worthy investment for the experience, the reputation of the school, and the chance to realize a lifelong dream. Others would say it’s foolish to turn down a full ride to any 4-year institution, and that your college experience is what you make of it. Both are sound arguments. Neither is wrong.

These hard choices pervade all of our lives: Do I leave a job I love for a large pay increase at a job I might hate? Do I move to a city with higher taxes but much better services? Do I allow my son to work while he’s still in school? Do I encourage my ailing parents to move into assisted living?

According to Ruth Chang, a Ph.D. in Philosophy, we struggle with big decisions because the way we frame them is problematic. Some reasons just can’t be quantified. For instance, in the initial example, there’s no way to assign measurable value to four years at your dream school; nor can you assign specific value to zero college debt. The better way to look at these decisions is to acknowledge that while they may not be equal, they are, in Chang’s words, “on a par.”

Framing big decisions like this allows us to be more open about which path to take. So instead of being paralyzed by the fear of making the wrong decision, we can say, “These are both good choices. I’ll be fine either way. Let me consider what I really want for my life right now and in the future.”

And as many of us parents know, the decisions we make about our kids only get bigger with time. “Should I let her climb on that playset” becomes “Should I let her go on Spring Break with another family” becomes “Should I pay for a new trombone” becomes “Should I tell her I don’t approve of her fiance.” But if we can reframe the way we approach these decisions, we and our kids can make better choices and live better lives.

Although many seniors have already made their decisions about next year, several are still grappling with it, and of course, the events of the last year have made things even more complicated. But if we can help alleviate their fears about making the wrong decision, they will be freed up to make the best, right decision for them.

Sources

Chang, Ruth. “How to Make Hard Choices.” TED, www.ted.com/talks/ruth_chang_how_to_make_hard_choices?language=en.

Image (upper right): from https://thenounproject.com/