Children are brilliant negotiators. Ask any parent who has just been persuaded to part with yet more money for another ‘essential’ toy, gadget, gimmick, or snack. We can learn a lot from them in our adult world if we are prepared to listen.
As tiny babies, we learn to manipulate the world to get what we want. We may not have a large range of techniques, but we know to cry for food, affection or comfort until we get it. Then as we grow, our repertoire of negotiation skills grows. Children are weaker physically and economically but, because they don’t care too much what they look like or how they behave, they are fantastic at doing whatever it takes to get what they want.
Any parent will recognise the following list, but even if you are not a parent, remember back to when you were a child. I bet you are familiar with nearly everything here. Why? Because the chances are, you’ve used pretty much all of them yourself!
This is a very basic negotiating skill. It works because it is embarrassing for the one who is not having a tantrum and our instinct is to either run away from it or get it to stop. The result? We often give in (and rationalise that it wasn’t such a big deal anyway). Result? The tantrum thrower gets what they want! By the way, I don’t encourage use of this in a professional environment!
Ask the person who is most likely to say ‘yes’
This, apparently, was my modus operandus as a child. Growing up with 3 adults, I worked out the pecking order, with the result that if one person said ‘no’ I moved onto the next and the next until I got a ‘yes’. Or I just chose the one who was most likely to agree. It didn’t matter, as long as I got my way! Find out who in the company is most likely to support what you are doing – they can often help persuade the tougher ones.
Some call it encouragement, but really it is bribery. Do you reward your child for learning to use the potty, for tying their shoelaces, for doing their homework? Whether it is a sticker, a sweet, a toy or the promise to watch a favourite TV programme, the result is the same; forget to offer a bribe and suddenly the thing we want to happen doesn’t, because ‘last time I got a sticker/sweet/toy/TV programme and I’m not doing it unless I get one now’. Sound familiar? In the grown up world, this might be free samples or concessions.
Never, ever, ever stop
Otherwise known as wearing down the adults. Children can be absolutely relentless about going on and on and on until they get what they want and the other side gives up. Why do you think so many homes are full of toys? In business, you can do the same (but in a nicer way!), by simply continuing to ask and being persistent. Many deals get struck just because someone was in the right place at the right time.
‘If we get a dog, I promise I will walk it every day’. ‘I promise I will tidy up my room’. ‘I promise I will do my homework when I get in from school’. In most cases these are just false promises, but they are credible, because they MIGHT be true. The parents agrees, then the promise doesn’t materialise. Some companies promise things as part of the deal and then, guess what, they don’t happen. Often, there is a REALLY good reason why not (and you can bet it is ‘someone else’s fault’, but by that time, the deal is done!
Children have a completely different sense of time to adults. They are on a journey of discovery and the world is an interesting and distracting place. There are no such thing as time limits or deadlines because they, literally, do have all the time in the world. Up and down the land, when it is time to leave for school, houses are ringing with the sound of frustrated parents shouting ‘hurry’ at oblivious children. Try getting a child ready to leave the house for something they don’t want to do – they can string it out for the longest possible time! When negotiating, unless the other side is in a hurry or is bound by a deadline, then a similar thing can happen. Try and get them to explain their timeframes – you may well find that a few hours before a decision is required, everything finally comes together smoothly.
Play one side off against the other
Children know that if they want something, it can sometimes be easier to get an adult to argue their case. Parents often disagree about things, so the child will chose the parent who is most likely to agree with them and then persuade them to work on the other parent. Immediately, the ‘difficult’ parent is outnumbered and the child has recruited a powerful advocate on their behalf. The bottom line here is that the child knows they will probably get what they want if they can persuade one parent. In work, use this technique to find people who are on your side (because for whatever reason, they benefit) and they can then help you state your case much more strongly and persuasively.
Next time you need to negotiate, free your inner child a little and see how you do – the chances are, you will do that much better. Good luck!