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Kids Are the Best Negotiators - Learn From Them

When we're very young, we learn to manipulate the world around us to get what we need and want. Early on, "the world" means our parents, primarily.
Written Mar 11, 2011, read 1457 times since then.
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ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: A few weeks ago, my son, Sam, 13, called me at the office with an urgent tone to his voice. "Dad," he said, "you know that hiking watch we saw at the ski shop... the one that costs only $120? Well, I really want it" "Oh, really," I responded, "I want my own jet airplane, too...I don't have that, do I?" Sam is not someone who's easily deterred, "Well, you can always fly on a regular airplane... I don't even have a watch that's waterproof that I can use for hiking. I need that watch." My next response was automatic: "I need a vacation, too. In fact, I need two vacations." Frustrated, Sam pulled out his "big gun" argument: "Dad, I deserve that watch. You know I do." All I had to do is say to him, in my own, unique, special way, "Deserve??"

It took Sam only about 30 seconds, maybe 45, but it definitely didn't take him a whole minute, to come back at me with his best-shot negotiating. "You're right, Dad. But don't YOU want me to get to school on time?" And don't YOU need me to be home for dinner on time after lacrosse practice? You deserve both those things. Well, that's why I think we should buy that watch."

Sure enough, we bought that watch - the one we decided "I needed" - the very next week.

LESSON TO LEARN: When we're very young, we learn to manipulate the world around us to get what we need and want. Early on, "the world" means our parents, primarily. As infants, we simply cry until either we're fed, or our diapers are changed, or we're given the affection we want. As we grow and mature, we're encouraged to be less self-centered, and taught to accept delayed gratification. In the process, we often get another, mistaken message: "It's not good to ask for things." In this way, as we age and mature, most of us become more and more reluctant to ask for what we want. And, with time, most of us forget how creatively and effectively we used to manipulate, or negotiate, those around us.

Remember these thirteen oh-so-effective childhood negotiation techniques:

  • Screaming, crying and kicking, that is, the "terror tantrum tactics"
  • Hugs, kisses and sweet looks, that is, the "melt your heart" gimmicks

  • "But you promised," that is, the "I've got a contract shtick"

  • "You're the best dad," that is, the "appalling appeal" to your self-image

  • "I'll be good for a year," that is, the "weakest link of all arguments"

  • "Every other kid's got one," that is, the "threaten your provider status" ploy

  • "I need it for school," that is, the "it's even good for me" strategy

  • "My birthday is only ten months away," that is, the time flies reminder

  • "I promise to pay you back someday," that is, the "there's a sucker born every minute" appeal

  • "I bet Grandma will say 'yes,'" that is, the "divide and conquer diversion"

  • "Can I have an advance on my next 17 allowances," that is, the "You can deduct it from my inheritance" endeavor

  • "It's only $125," that is, the "my mommy's a millionaire" madness

  • And, lastly, "I'll die if I don't get it," that is, the "final appeal" final appeal

Pretty creative. And pretty effective, too. It's hard to believe kid's are such good negotiators, and that you were that good, too, a "few years" ago.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Listen to kids, and remember what it was like to be a kid, when you had no money, no power, no authority and little else to use as an arsenal to get "your way" other than your natural cunning. You did what came naturally: as best you could, you appealed to your parents' sense of what they wanted, what they needed and what they felt they deserved, to get what you wanted. That is, you aimed your requests right at your parents' "buttons," and got what you wanted by appealing to their own self-interests. Pure, natural genius.

In negotiating for yourself at work, we don't recommend crying, tantrums or blackmail. We do recommend, highly, that you not be afraid to make requests, and that you always remember that it's the other person's "wants, needs and deserves" that you must first consider and appeal to, in order to then get what you "want, need and deserve."

When you're a grown up, you shouldn't engage in petty manipulations. No, but you do get more of what you "want, need and deserve" if you engage in wise negotiating. And you need to engage in wise negotiating, too, because, as a grown up, you have your own kids and grandkids who will continually try to out-negotiate you. And they're really, really good at it.

Always bear in mind...

1. You're much more experienced in negotiating than you think; you've been an "expert" negotiator ever since you were quite young..

2. Because you have valuable skills, knowledge and relations with which to "bargain," you have a great deal of negotiating leverage; raising your voice and making threats isn't necessary anymore.

3. Remain respectful and reasonable, and you appeal to what the "other side" wants and needs, there really is no downside to asking for what you want; that hasn't changed since you were a kid, and it never will.

Learn more about the author, Alan Sklover.

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