For my first “serious” blog for 2017 I start with something more personal and lighthearted – learning from kids. The following is best taken with a pinch of salt and/or a good glass of wine.
Why we can learn important negotiation lessons from Kids
Most children are natural negotiators. They do not hesitate to engage in a negotiation with their parents or other children. They will often engage in negotiations for the most trivial things. Many, depending on their age, will not think twice to reopen a negotiation. Most pursue their objectives stubbornly. Often their approach to negotiation is simple or simplistic. Their negotiation techniques become more refined as they get older.
As adults (and parents) we often shake our heads at what and how children negotiate. However, there is much we can learn from them:
The positive attributes:
Everything is negotiable – many young kids will try to negotiate almost anything, be it the time to go to sleep, when to do their homework or whether to be able to have some more sweets. This is not to say that they constantly negotiate, rather they do not consider many topics as non-negotiable.
Things can be renegotiated or reopened – depending on the situation, many kids will revisit an agreement to see if they can improve the outcome (eg when to go to sleep). They often do so without any fear of repercussion, i.e. they think it’s worth having a go.
Kids flinch – many kids I have observed do not share their parents’ reluctance to express a reaction when faced with a negative response. They visibly and audibly flinch to express disappointment. sometimes teenagers can get carried away with their flinches (eg foot stamping). This is usually due to what is known as an amygdala hijack, ie puberty. This phase is normally over by the time they reach their early twenties.
They show resilience – kids don’t bear a grudge when they lose out in a negotiation. They often forget within a few minutes that they lost out in a negotiation and either get on with other things or revisit the negotiation at a later time.
Kids are not status bound – many kids will often have a go negotiating with any adult or older person. They do not get too influenced by the other person’s higher status. This does change as they get older and more socially attuned to differences in status.
They learn fast – Many kids learn fast from previous negotiations. By the time they have reached their early teens they can be formidable negotiation opponents in most domestic situations.
The negative attributes:
There is little planing – I doubt many kids think through their veto and targets in a structured way. They often overshoot the other side’s veto and bring a negotiation to a premature halt. Alternatively their outrageous demands create an even bigger negotiation gap by encouraging the other side to make an extreme counterproposal. Some kids seem to be better at understanding and working with the perspectives of their counterparts.
Few have a concession management strategy – kids often have only one or two concessions in mind, Their negotiations therefore tend to be relative simple and distributive rather than integrative
Kids can become emotional during a negotiation – one of the most important social skills children learn from adults is appropriate emotional control. It should not come as a surprise that children often find it difficult to separate the emotions from the issues. This is a problem however that many adults share.
Few retain their positive negotiation skills beyond their teenage years – it is a pity to see that many young adults, as they enter their first jobs, lose their positive approach to negotiation and fall into a more positional mindset.
Parents often hate to negotiate with their children. They know that these negotiations will be hard and that the children will not hesitate to reopen at the first possible moment. Here is the good news – when children turn out to be tough negotiators they have worked out one simple fact – they know we love them and that we have no veto. What are we going to do, send them away?
Watching kids negotiate proves that anyone can be a good negotiator – we are born with these social skills. We just have to learn how to use them properly.