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What negotiators can learn from kids?

Jules Bakhos
What Negotiators Can Learn From Kids
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I couldn’t agree more when they say that kids are the best negotiators. I am lucky to be a mom to two amazing girls. I tell you this because I learn from my little people every day. If you really observe kids, I believe they can be the best teachers in the world. 

Last weekend my husband and I were planning to take the girls to a nice park where they can play and spend some good time. Like I always do with my eldest who is often giving me a hard time to do her homework, I told her earlier last week “ listen to me honey, if you do your home wok properly this week your father and I will take you to this amazing park on Saturday. But you need to finish your home work first. Remember, no homework no park! Ok sweetie?”. She didn’t seem very excited about the idea and replied “mommy, why do I need to do homework?... why do I have homework everyday?... why are we going to this park? Ok mommy, I will do all my home work only if I you take me to the beach and invite all my friends to come with me and I want to eat a lot of ice cream and candies and I want you to buy me a mermaid swimsuit…”. Of course I said no but this is when the negotiation started and believe me when I say that it wasn’t a ride in the park. And I noticed with time that whenever I ask my girl to do something she always comes back to me by asking for something in return. Always.

Well, many experts suggest that kids are highly skilled negotiators. In fact, a study conducted in Sweden determined that children as young as 2 years of age negotiated with a clear purpose in their play and showed definite problem-solving strategies while making genuine efforts to understand their friends’ perspectives.

So by watching her negotiating with me I noticed and learned at least three natural skills that she had:

Be curious

Kids are naturally curious. They ask ‘why.’ Often. And they aren’t afraid to keep asking ‘why’ until they get an answer that satisfies. Few adults do the same. That failure to stay curious adversely impacts on one’s ability to negotiate effectively. Often the unstated needs really drive a negotiation. Like an iceberg, the stated needs are just the tip visible above the waterline. The bulk, however, lies hidden under the surface. It takes curiosity to discover those driving needs.

Ask, ask, ask

Children ask for what they want … over and over again. And children don’t just ask for what they believe is likely to be given, but rather, ask for what they desire regardless of expected outcomes. At some point in life, however, that openness to ask for what one wants gets conditioned out. Fear of the word ‘no,’ fear of rejection, fear of perceived failure, and fear of the unknown inhibit those natural childhood tendencies. It’s a shame. Asking for what one wants is critical to negotiating success.

Don’t take No for an answer

Most adults stop negotiating when they hear the word ‘no.’ They assume it signals the end of the discussion. However skilled negotiators assert that ‘no’ is the start of a negotiation. Interestingly, most children intuitively subscribe to the latter theory. Hearing the word ‘no’ rarely stops them as is evident in candy or toy stores around the world.

Get something in return

Children negotiate every day on school playgrounds around the world – even though they have no training. That’s because children intrinsically understand the golden rule of negotiation: never give anything without getting something in return. On the playground, this “giving/getting” means “You can try my Game Boy if I can read your comic book.” Or “You can borrow my basketball if I can ride your bike. ”Kids understand that they should never give up something of value, unless they get something in return.

For those who believe they’re not effective negotiators or that they don’t know much about negotiating, it may give some relief to remember that negotiating is something inherently instinctual and all of humankind have been doing it since childhood. It’s ironic that the way to move forward to become a better negotiator is to move backward to recall one’s innate, but forgotten skills. At Scotwork you will learn those skills and many more so you can become the best version of your childhood negotiator.

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