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Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Teach your child to negotiate win-win solutions

I think that kids are born with innate negotiation skills.  They don't seem to hesitate to ask/beg/plead/demand their own way and they are quick to jump right into deal making on almost every issue.  Does this sound familiar to anyone?

Dad: Time for bed, let's go.
Son: Aww, can't I stay up a little later tonight?
Dad: No, it is a school night.
Son: OK, let me just watch this one more commercial on TV, I really like this one!  The dog on the scooter is so funny!
Dad: No, come now or tomorrow night bedtime is 30 minutes earlier.
Son: Fine.  I just need to get a drink [as he heads toward the kitchen].
Dad: [blood pressure rising] Hurry up!
Son: What if I promise to go to bed early tomorrow night, can I stay up later tonight [moving back towards the couch]?
Dad: Stop arguing with me and go to bed!

That last sentence is the one I want to eliminate from my repertoire.  Not that it is undeserved but rather that it is re-enforcing the idea that when someone in authority tells my son to do something, he should just do it.  "Don't ask questions, go directly to bed."  Don't misunderstand, I am not promoting democracy in the house, that is just silly.  Mom and Dad are still in charge but I think there is a balance where the kids can retain some independence and still be obedient.  One rule we have made is that the kids can ask "why" or try to make a deal only AFTER they have done what they were told to do.  Try it at your house and let me know if it works.  I think we succeed with it about 50% of the time.

Looking through a list of negotiation techniques, I can see three right off the top that my son and daughter are already using: 1) Asking for more than they expect, 2) Using drama (they are great actors), 3) Never take any rules as set in stone.  We as parents are bigger, stronger and most of the time smarter than they are.  We hold all the cards.  If they are going to get anything out of us they need to learn some techniques and the ones above very likely came from trial and error, beginning at an early age.  Cry (drama) and Mommy gives you a bottle. Once they know it works our kids will use it every time.

Despite the frustrations involved with negotiating with a 5 year old, there are many benefits to helping our kids develop some skill in this fine, ageless art.

Negotiation benefits in school (grade school, high school, college).

Now, hard work and study are important.  We want out children to learn whatever is being taught in school as it is probably going to be useful to them someday in the real world.  But what happens when they are faced with a grade they think may be a little unfair.  As with any negotiation where your child will be starting from a weaker position (the teacher does not have to change the grade) it is important for your son or daughter to control their emotions.  Crying and throwing accusations at the teacher will not work.  A well reasoned and prepared argument may help to raise that B to a B+ thereby keeping the overall GPA above the range where many companies will make an arbitrary cut.  It never hurts to ask.


Negotiation benefits when interviewing.  
Merriam-Webster defines Negotiate as: to confer with another so as to arrive at the settlement of some matter.  That sounds like a job interview to me. Typically when we hear the words job and negotiate the salary discussion is what immediately pops to mind.  I tend to believe that for a new grad entering the workforce, salary should be the last criteria they consider for a new job.  As long as it is not slave labor they should be looking at the learning opportunities they will receive which will in turn allow them to boost themselves up to a better job later.   The advice for a good negotiation is easily applied to a job interview.

  • Be prepared!  This one should be tattooed on the back of every jobseeker's hand.  
  • Try to build trust with the other party. 
  • Don't be emotional or take things personally.  Many times and interviewer will test a young candidate with a put down or outright insult and getting beyond that to the real issues will help our kids to pass.  

Negotiation benefits at work.
While this and my other articles are mainly about preparing my kids for getting a job rather than what they will need to do afterwards, there are many skills that will carry over into the workplace and the ability to negotiate is certainly one of them. There are also many books already written on negotiations for business.  The one I read and liked in grad school was Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In.

While Getting to Yes was a great book, it might be a little too much for a 5 year old.  A good start to negotiation training for our kids is to explain to them what it actually is and is not.  Negotiation is not arguing or demanding or forcing someone to do something.  It is two people working out a mutually satisfactory agreement or win-win situation.  After the definition it is up to us to take advantage of each learning opportunity as they arise.  Kids (at least mine anyway) do not seem to enjoy lectures so explaining about the need to prepare before negotiating and to remember to consider the other person's needs will be met with blank stares and mindless nods.  But, the next time my son asks if he can go out to play before doing his homework I can send him back to his desk to prepare his pitch.  That, he will remember, especially if I let him go out afterwards.

Here are a few other techniques to keep in mind the next time a learning opportunity presents itself:

  • Remain calm, don't get emotional or let it become too personal.
  • Listen, listen, listen.
  • Timing (Don't ask for something when Mom is on the phone).
  • Be prepared to compromise.
  • Ask and understand the other party's needs.

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