The "3 Bug Rule"

keep calm25 years ago, Robert Fulghum published his #1 New York Times bestseller All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten, a series of essays on topics such as life, death, joy, sorrow and love. The book’s title is taken from the first essay in the book in which Fulghum cites lessons that are (or should be) learned in kindergarten. He then explains how the world would be so much better if adults were to follow the same lessons.

I bring this up because I find it amazing how many times, when working with my clients, I use examples from my kids’ elementary school years to illustrate a point. In many of my executive coaching sessions, I’m often asked about issues related to people management.  So, many of the examples I use have to do with how my kids treat each other, and their fellow students. One of my favorites is the “3 Bug Rule”.   It works like this…

When you find yourself having difficulty with another student, or you find they are doing something that is either annoying or distracting (bugging) you, then you take the following 3 steps…

1.  Ask them to stop whatever it is they’re doing (the majority of the time, this step leads to a resolution).
2.  If they don’t stop, then tell them, “If you don’t stop, I’m going to have to speak to the teacher.”
3.  If they still don’t stop, speak to the teacher.

As this rule was implemented in our childrens’ school, the administration found that when the students used this approach, they learned how to effectively address conflict directly with their peers, how to use the concept of consequence in a healthy way, and how to bring authority in at the appropriate time. They also found that overall, the nit-picky bickering and banter that is common among grade schoolers is quite low at the school.  I think they’re on to something here. So much so, that when my kids were younger, we instituted the “3 Bug Rule” at our home, and we’ve been using it ever since.. Often, one of them comes to me or my wife yelling, “He/she won’t stop bugging me!”  So, we ask if they have gone through the steps.  When they reply “No”, we say, “Well, go do it”.  And most of the time, peace is restored.

So, to follow Fulghum’s line of thinking, what would it look like if we adults utilized the “3 Bug Rule” as a guideline in our own interactions with each other?  What if the next time you had a conflict with a co-worker, a boss, an employee, a vendor, or whoever, your approach was something like this….

1.  “Hey there, can I talk to you about something?  It seems that there’s a disconnect between what I need and what you are delivering.  I can’t use it in the way you are giving it to me.  Is there a way that I can further explain my expectation so that we can be more aligned?”

If nothing changes…

2.  “Hey there, remember that disconnect we discussed a few weeks ago. Well, I’m still not getting what I need.  Perhaps it’s that I’m not explaining myself well enough.  In any event, I’m running up against a deadline, and we have to get this resolved.  If we can’t, I’m thinking I may have to pull in the director so it doesn’t stall any further”.

And, if things remain the same…

3.  “Hey there, I set up a meeting with the director.  Since we spoke last week, I still haven’t gotten what I needed, so I figured she can help us solve this impasse.  She’s expecting us, we just have to confirm the time.  What does your calendar look like?”

So, you may be thinking, “Yeah, very nice…all rainbows and unicorns. But this won’t work at my company”.  If that’s your thought, I’ll ask you what I ask my kids….have you gone through the steps?  If not, then try it. You may be surprised at what will happen when you do.