Hard Negotiation Lessons Learnt from Dealing with my Toddler!
Probably my most difficult negotiations are with my toddler, let’s call her Miss C. Like most kids she knows what she wants, and is specific about what she wants, and won’t relent until she gets it. These attributes alone make her a formidable negotiating opponent. I’m by no means a parenting specialist nor am I trying to be. Through the learning curve I’m experiencing you may find a few lessons to which you will relate, and could use in your personal and business life when negotiating.
They want it, get it, then meltdown
Little Miss C really wanted to go on the tea cup ride last weekend at Darling Harbour. This sounded like a great idea, so off I went and bought two tickets, then proceeded with Miss C to board her favourite colour yellow tea cup. The ride moved into motion and instantly Miss C broke into tears of fear and wanted off. The next five minutes were torture for her, everyone else on the ride and her dad, who was being gawked at by other parents as if I had forced my child to endure such a terrifying venture.
Sometimes Miss C doesn’t really know that what she wants may not be what she really wants, or to her benefit. In negotiations, we may face a party who wants something that you know would actually not be of great benefit to them, or too difficult to achieve or implement. For example, one of the participants on our Advancing Negotiation Skills course was trying to strike a deal with me after he had completed the course. At the time, he was studying for his MBA and said that it would be of great benefit for his fellow students to come on one of our negotiation skills programs. His opening proposal was that if he were able to secure twelve bookings on our course that we should provide him with a complimentary place on our follow on course. I knew that this was going to be a difficult task and that he would quickly lose interest in pursuing it as it would be too hard for him to secure that many bookings. I explained this to him, halved the requirement to 6 bookings and said that we would still give him a complimentary place. It appears as if I had cruelled the deal for myself, but, actually, a good deal is a deal that can be implemented in real life by both parties.
Undermining your own authority
Occasionally, well honestly, often, my wife and I find ourselves in the heat of battle with Miss C due to a typical emotional toddler behaviour situation. We default to a rash threat such as, “We will not go to the party then and you will stay home.” It’s a lose/lose. Not only does she get stuck at home, but so do we. Secondly, it’s a threat that we probably would not implement. Miss C is great at pushing the boundaries and, when we fail to carry out our idle threat, she learns to push further.
In negotiations we refer to threats as sanctions. Sanctions (something the other party wishes to avoid) are a great source of power and, if used correctly and well, will give you leverage in a negotiation. If you use a sanction you must be able to follow it through. Just like Miss C, if your counterpart calls your bluff, you lose your credibility, your power and they may even push you further.
Dealing with a controlling person
Miss C is a decision maker. She wants to make her own decisions and doesn’t like to be told what to do. We’ve had to adapt our approach to get her to do things through what we call “The Lesser of Two Evils”, which is a form of an ‘either or’ proposal. For example, if we need Miss C to put on her pyjamas, but she wants to go and play in the garden, we trade it. If she agrees to put on her pyjamas, then she can go to the garden, or she can choose to go straight to bed. This might sound a bit harsh, but it works, as she makes the decision which is always the lesser of two evils to her: to put on her pyjamas rather than to go straight to bed.
When we negotiate, we are often in front of decision makers who, as they are described, like to be the one perceived to be making the final decision. Consider using ‘either or’ proposals that will give them the perceived decision making power that they enjoy. Just make sure you’re happy with all the options you put forward.
Miss C has a bird phobia at the moment. On the last two brunch visits to our favourite café, a little tweeting Indian Minor bird upset her to the point of tantrum, forcing us to leave as we had disturbed the peace of the entire café. So, prior to heading down to the café for our third attempt we prepped Miss C that there would more than likely be birds around and that they would be friendly birds. This worked, and now she refers to the bird as a “friend” and can enjoy babycinos and cheesy toast once again.
In negotiations, it’s important to set the other party’s expectations realistically and to set them early. Reveal information that is pertinent to a deal being done, as well as any stickier issues that may be uncomfortable for the other party. This will save time if there is no bridge possible on certain issues and/or free you up to work hard on the issues that really matter. Common advice is to agree on the easy things first, however, this is poor advice as you could consume precious time if there are deal-breaking issues still to be confronted. Rather face the big issues first. Once those have been agreed upon and settled, the easier issues will follow suit, as, psychologically, neither party is likely to want to lose the gained territory or momentum of the negotiation, which is heading to a successful close.