When Negotiating Summon Your Inner Child, Written by Colleen Franca

In both our personal and business lives all of us have been involved in the process of negotiating. Some have been small negotiations such as making a choice about where to go eat dinner, what to do for the weekend or what time to set your child’s bedtime.  Other negotiations have had a much larger impact on our lives such as buying a house, pitching for a promotion, getting the best deal from a supplier or trying to get resources for an important project.

Even though we may feel we don’t know much about negotiating, we all have an inherent instinct about it, since we have been doing it since we were children. In fact, many expert negotiators agree that kids are the best negotiators since many seem to get a lot of what they want without formal authority and power. How do they do it? There is no simple explanation for why children are good negotiators and of course some of their success has to do with the emotional ties they have with their parents and grandparents. However, it is worth looking at some of the techniques they use that we can learn from when preparing for a negotiation.

Children ask for what they want, not for what they think you’ll agree to. In fact, if they want a cookie, they will most likely ask for three, so in any negotiation big or small, ask for what you want. Ask for more than you want. State Your Needs and Aim High.  Then be prepared to accept less than you ask for. That makes the other side feel like they have gotten a real concession from you.

Many of us often shy away from asking for more and better. More money. Better working arrangements. A larger team. Better access to resources. Higher fees. Better prices. When we do ask, many of us sell ourselves short and don’t ask for what we really want because we believe we won’t get it. Successful negotiators are optimists. If we expect more, we’ll get more. Aiming high and stating what your needs are is one of the keys to beginning a successful negotiation. And isn’t one cookie better than none?

Kids’ love to ask the question “why?”. We may sometimes feel they are doing it to drive us crazy, but in most cases, they really want to know, because they are genuinely curious. They have a tremendous amount of energy and will keep asking questions until they feel they have a satisfactory understanding. Be Naturally Curious. In any negotiation, gaining a thorough understanding of the situation is vital. Consider:  What are all the facts about this situation? What does the “other side” really want?  Can I obtain objective data to help me understand what might be fair? If the other side has stated a hard position on something asking Why? can help uncover more information about their underlying concerns, needs and desires.

Research has shown that creativity in kids is generally most active before the age of 5. Using creativity in negotiations allows us to create more possibilities, more value, more options and more goodwill. Be Creative. If the other side sees that you are thinking creatively about how to satisfy their real interests, you are more likely to get a concession, come to agreement and develop a good relationship. In this way we can consider conflict in a negotiation as beneficial as the clash of two ideas has the potential of producing a third idea with mutual benefits for both parties.

In negotiations, when most of us hear the word “no”, we think it is all over.  Yet when children hear the word “no” it rarely stops them and in fact may be a signal of just the beginning. How many times have we overheard (or experienced with our own) a child asking for a piece of candy in a grocery store? The child rarely stops at the first No and can sometimes keep it up for seemingly hours.

Don’t Accept No for an AnswerNegotiation is a conversation whose goal is to reach an agreement with someone whose interests are not perfectly aligned with ours. Without discord there is nothing to negotiate about. If we want to get what we’re entitled to get or capable of getting, we need to be assertive (not aggressive!) and negotiate past “no”. Being assertive means asking for what you want and refusing to accept NO until all options have been explored. Being assertive also means taking care of your own interests while maintaining respect for the interests of others.  “No” signals an opportunity to problem-solve the conflicting and overlapping interests both parties want. It is also a good time to test assumptions making sure you understand what your bargaining partner is thinking and feeling. Invite your bargaining partner to your side of the table to figure out how you can both get as much as you want as possible.

Depending on what they are asking for, most kids are smart enough and have an instinct to direct their requests to the person who is most likely to say yes. Sometimes it’s better to ask Mommy for something; sometimes it’s better to ask Daddy. They also have a back-up plan. If both parents join forces and still say no, they will take their case to grandma or grandpa.

Know Your Audience. Knowing your audience can make a big difference in influencing the negotiation process. You can up your chances of success significantly by researching the other party ahead of time and being attentive to signals during your discussions that will tip you off on each person’s set of priorities and preferences. If they value financials, the most – put focus there. Are they more of a relationship builder? Leverage that when making your ask.  Make sure that when you’re negotiating, it’s with the right person, you’re using the right approach and the person you’re negotiating with has the authority—or access to the right authority—to make decisions.

Conclusion:

Our adult personalities and behaviors have been shaped by our childhood experiences, yet for whatever reasons many of us stop drawing on the natural instincts we had when we were young. If we tap into what we learned and did during our childhood and combine that with the experience and wisdom we have as responsible adults, we can become experts at negotiating ourselves. So, the next time you are preparing for a negotiation, give yourself an edge by summoning your inner child!

Happy Negotiating!

Research 

  1. You Can Negotiate Anything: The World’s Best Negotiator Tells You How To Get What You Want by Herb Cohen Mass Market Paperback
  2. The Creativity Crisis: Study of the decrease in creative thinking scores on the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking, by , Kyung Hee Kim. Creativity Research Journal 23, 285-295.
  3. Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher Paperback