There are approximately 16,000,000 teenage girls living in America. One of them lives in my house. That would be my daughter, Mimi, an extraordinary 17-year old who, shall we say, has been quite an education for me.
If you have a teenage daughter, you know what I mean. If you've been a teenage daughter, you know what I mean. If you have a friend with a teenage daughter (and spend hours chanting "It's just a phase she's going through. It too shall pass"), you know what I mean. Everyone else -- oh ye of no teenagers in your life -- please give me the benefit of the doubt for a moment while I shed some major light on the little understood emerging science of how to communicate to a teenage girl.
Most people who know me would assume I'd have no trouble communicating to my teenage daughter. I'm smart. I'm likable. I'm laid back and usually thought of as "cool." I am also a professional communicator -- my work takes me all over the world to speak with all kinds of people: rocket scientists, computer programmers, college students, actuaries, polymer chemists, PR wizards, cultural creatives, Hollywood executives, video game makers and everybody else in between -- a percentage for whom English is their second language.
Compared to communicating to my teenage daughter, these people are a piece of cake.
Usually, my attempts to engage my daughter in meaningful conversation are perceived of as lame. I ask what I consider to be authentic, thoughtful, caring questions and, more often than not, get only inscrutable, oneword answers -- " "Fine," "Good" and "OK" being the three most popular as she mounts the carpeted staircase to her room.
If I try to get clever in my conversation-opening mode, I succeed only in getting "the look" -- the non-verbal equivalent of "Yo, dude, I see through your game of trying to have a conversation with me and, God, why would I want to talk with anyone as old as you when, in fact, I have some serious texting and Netflix watching to do?"
But today... ah, today... driving Ms. Mimi to school was a Red Sea-parting experience -- a glorious epiphany, free parking in Monopoly -- one of those Archimedes-in-the-bathtub moments we've all heard about.
Are you ready for the the secret to communicating to a teenage girl? STORY!
Yes, story! Today, instead of my pitiful, Socratically-infused, semi-desparate attempt to engage my still-not-yet-fully-formed-frontal-cortex-challenged daughter, I completely shifted gears. I took a left turn, instead of a right, segueing from something she said to the spontaneous telling of a personal story -- the passionate, no-holds-barred sharing of a life-changing moment for me that happened five years ago in Australia -- a moment when the eternal adolescent in me made a quantum leap.
I was not probing. I was not teaching. I was not "looking for an opening" to establish more rapport. I was merely recounting a story that mattered to me -- one, it turns out, that mattered to her -- an edgy, aspiring artist who, like me, sometimes wrestles with doubt.
The vibe in the car? Totally transformed from the kind of teenage black hole moment where only a father's bald spot is visible to the sudden brilliance of a Christmas morning.
When my story was over, my daughter was not only fully present, engaged, and responsive... she asked ME questions. Here in this space, Mimi and I were one, two members of the same tribe sitting around the same fire, the light in each others' eyes all we needed to find our way home to ourselves and each other.
While there probably aren't a whole of teenage girls in your life right now, you, as a human being, entrepreneur, artist, entertainer, worker bee, business owner, freelancer or politician, are faced with the same challenge every single day that millions of parents of teenage girls are faced with -- and that is how to how to BRIDGE THE GAP between you and that other person... how to connect... how to engage in a way that works.
May I suggest that STORY is the way to go -- the convertible, low-carbon emission vehicle that allows you to travel vast distances between others who may be very different from yourself. Story, quite simply, is the BRIDGE, the universally understood medium that makes it profoundly easy to deliver and receive a message in the least amount of time and in a way that is empowering, inspiring, and memorable.
What story will YOU tell this week? And who will you tell it to?
Mitch Ditkoff is not a teenager. He hasn't been a teenager for 48 years. But he has been the father of two teenagers and also a writer and the President of Idea Champions, an innovation consulting and training company headquartered in Woodstock, NY. The above story is excerpted from his forthcoming book, WISDOM AT WORK: How Moments of Truth on the Job Reveal the Real Business of Life.