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The clapping game my friend Shayna uses with her first-grade class had us all talking over dinner the other night; the conversation started as a bit of a laugh about how she’s trained them, in a rather Pavlovian way, to stop what they’re doing pay attention when she claps. The kids have to repeat the rhythm pattern, and doing so makes them focus on her next instructions. We were marveling over how much more effective her method is than yelling, and it occurred to me that, for a first-grader trying to sort out all the noises and information flying at them, cues like the clapping game are vital. At six years old, kids are still learning methods and tools for prioritizing the data streaming at them, and volume isn’t always the best signal that something is important in our loud world. It’s no wonder that sometimes they get overwhelmed and sink into a meltdown. And I realized that the best teachers (and, as adults, the best managers) are those that teach us their cues for importance, and stick them with consistency. The boss that emails most everything, but lets you know that when she calls, it’s important; the way we know that a short car beep is a, “hey there” but a long one is a, “LOOK OUT!”

We don’t even always know when we’ve become attuned to the cues until we get around people who miss ours. Families have entire languages of cues that can dumbfound strangers. And in relationships, those who rely on cues rather than open communication may find themselves disappointed and confused when their signals are missed. Which leads me to stop and ask myself, what cues am I giving? And what cues from others might I be missing?


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