They wreck our stuff, kill our sleep and chase away our non-parenting friends. But we still love ’em and want to take care of them. I’ve learned a lot about effective persuasive communication from my three-year-old.
And it only makes sense. Toddlers are too small to do much, and lack their own credit cards, but they need the same food, shelter, love and amusements that anyone else does. All they have are their powers of persuasion.
These suggestions aren’t (just) tongue-in-cheek. Try them out in your own communication to make some stronger connections.
Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself
Parents of young children are typically broke, frustrated, chronically anxious, time-crunched and sleep-deprived. In this, they strongly resemble customers.
Toddlers know that when you’re speaking to a distracted audience, you might have to repeat your message 6 or 7 (or 60 or 70) times to get heard.
Repetition at toddler levels will drive your customers out of their minds. But you can repeat your message a lot more often than you think you can. Just like exhausted parents, your customers are only listening to you with half an ear. Be sure you’ve made your point enough times for them to get it.
Grown-up tip: Look for varied ways to convey the same message, or you’ll run into Are We There Yet Syndrome.
Look for ways to surprise and delight
My boy imperiously demanded some animal crackers the other day. “Animal crackers!”
“Hmm, what could you say that would make me want to give you animal crackers?” I said, in that mom way I have.
“Animal crackers, darling?” he said.
Darling bought him a lot more animal crackers than please would have. Their ability to surprise us and make us laugh is a big part of what keeps toddlers alive on those difficult parenting days.
Grown-up tip: It’s not always easy for us to reproduce the sideways logic of a toddler. Start by capturing all your ideas, including (especially) goofy ones. Set aside some time regularly to noodle on communication ideas that are “too silly” or “can’t work for me.”
When you come up with something both simple and surprising, you may just have a winner.
Use the language of your audience
The other day, my always-entertaining small person looked me in the eye and asked soberly, “Mama, is Papa maybe not a morning person?”
One of the vastly amusing things about toddlers is the way they repeat our phrasing exactly. This gets kind of stressful when we start worrying about the kid getting kicked out of Montessori school for R-rated language. But mostly it’s one of the great joys of hanging out with little kids.
Toddlers know that we hear best when we get a message that uses our own words.
Grown-up tip: One of the less-known uses of surveys and testimonials is to find the language of your customers. Look through everything your customers send you for wording you can mirror back to them. Artful, “writerly” language isn’t nearly as important as using the words and phrases that your customers do themselves.
Added 6/21: Don’t miss Bob Hoffman’s brilliant observation in the comments below that “clients are just toddlers with money.”
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Flickr Creative Commons image by Kah_Zanon