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I am confronted almost daily with how lessons in parenting have so many parallels to business. Not in a condescending or hierarchical way where someone is the parent and someone the child—just in the powerful moments where we teach and sculpt and at least attempt to mold our children. If we step back just long enough to listen to ourselves or our coparent (or in rare moments, even those gems from our children), there’s often something groundbreaking and relevant.

Having three sons, I’m lucky when I can capture moments between the rush of sports, horseplay, and constant roasting that occurs between them.

One situation recently was too obvious to miss, even for me.

Our boys have only recently joined the public school life after years of being homeschooled (long story for another day). The speed with which they are catching up and learning the jargon, the inside jokes, and the social expectations is almost alarming but also marvelous to watch.

Our middle son (7) is a mini-version of my husband. He’s mechanically inclined, quick to learn, scared of nothing (even what he should be), physically fit, and constantly placing unreasonable goals on himself.

Our oldest son, however, was blessed/cursed to be more like me. No common sense to save his life. Virtually no awareness or observation skills. His head is always in the clouds. But he’s extremely intelligent and a gifted athlete (credit to his dad NOT me) and thanks to his recent growth spurt, he’s about a foot taller than his classmates and an inch taller than me. His Arabic roots also have him walking around school with a full mustache at 12, which the girls love (eye roll) and the boys tease.

It's interesting to consider how much you don’t tell your children when they rejoin school after years of being out of it, because you take it for granted. The lunchroom games, the jargon, etc. We are realizing that we certainly missed a lot of things we should’ve mentioned. Add to that, my son’s almost unhealthy dose of naivete and believing the best in everyone and you have a recipe for disaster.

So on a recent school day, as 4th period was ending, a friend asked my son if he wanted to slapbox. He said sure. He had no idea what it was but it sounded fun?

So they went to the back of the class and the other kid punched him in the side. As my son will tell you, it no longer sounded fun, and the things his dad and I did remember to tell him kicked in. What did he do? He hauled off and punched his friend as hard as he could in the face. Then he said, “this is dumb, I’m done with this” and walked off.

I’m laughing outloud as I write this because I can literally picture how it probably went down. It was a clusterfuck of confusion. He knew he needed to defend himself, didn’t understand what was happening, or why this was a game, but he wanted to end it. For the poor friend who knew the slapboxing rules, this was no longer a game—it was a fight because my son escalated it (unknowingly).

There are more lessons in this than can fit on a page, and my fellow parents out there probably have all kinds of thoughts/suggestions. But that evening, after all the talking, and dealing with the school’s consequences of fighting, my mind drifted to the business. The theme with our son (outside of what physically to do and not do) had been: this all would’ve been prevented if you hadn’t tried to act tough and cool and simply asked your friend: “what’s slapboxing?”.

“When he told you, you either would’ve decided not to play OR you would’ve at least gone into it knowing the rules. You would’ve saved both of you a suspension and yourself a lot of embarrassment”, we explained.

The same applies to business… especially this business (employee benefits & health insurance in general). How many times could we have avoided problems and disasters for ourselves, and our clients if we had just asked questions? I guess I never really knew any other way of doing business since I came into this space totally green. My background had been in nonprofit strategic planning, marketing & PR, event planning, etc. This industry was so new to me.

When I was introduced to knowledgeable people, I shut up and listened. I soaked up every ounce of knowledge I could. I asked questions when I didn’t understand. I was so new and uneducated in this field; I couldn’t even pretend like I knew. I had to be humble enough to ask.

And the more I learned, and the more I knew, I discovered I should ask even more questions because I realized how fast, and deep, and complex this industry is. I also quickly learned that if I asked 10 people the same question, depending on their background I would get 10 different answers.

When I think about my clients (TPAs, brokers, networks, captives, health plans, etc.) and their never-ending effort to control healthcare costs, the truly successful ones stand out as those who have a willingness to ask questions. Not present themselves as experts where they aren’t. Asking questions, especially of subject matter experts or respectable mentors in the business is a gamechanger.

Many of the pitfalls I’ve seen clients make (and have made myself) have been when they (or I) didn’t ask questions.

Next time I’m faced with a need or issue that I have every hope of resolving, but not enough personal knowledge to get me there, I’m simply going to ask, “What is slapboxing?” before I punch my friend in the face.

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