How to Win Without Giving In
What a 4 year old can teach you about negotiating agreements.
How to Win without Giving In
It was just after the fourth birthday of my identical twin daughters. They were fighting over one of their new Barbies in a tug of war--one pulling on Barbie’s hair and the other aggressively pulling her feet.
At the time, we were about seven months into what I call our “work it out” program. It’s based on the advice of an expert that I heard on National Public Radio. She had suggested that parents try to stay out of kids’ conflicts and instead, encourage your kids to work it out on their own. My initial reaction was, come on, you’ve got to be kidding me, that’s impossible.
But the Barbie battle proved me wrong. Here’s what happened.
As my girls were screaming, in stereo of course, “I want the Barbie!” I told them, as I had been for several months, “Girls, you need to separate and work it out.” Once they separated, it took them a minute or two to calm down, with occasional outbursts of, “But, Mommy, I want the Barbie.”
Discuss Interests, Not Positions
Then my daughter, Ariana, said to her sister, “Well, why do you want THAT Barbie?” And Daniela responded by saying, “Well, why do YOU want that Barbie?” Then Ariana said, “Well, I like that Barbie because of her hair.” Then Daniela said, “Well, I like that Barbie because of her dress.”
There was a long pause and it seemed like they were at an impasse until Ariana said, “How about I give you the dress and I keep the Barbie? Is that a good idea, Mommy?”
Collaboration – What A Great Idea!
I almost couldn’t believe it. I smiled very proudly, “Yes, honey, that’s a great idea!” Ariana (the one I now call my little negotiator), was able to successfully resolve the conflict. Of course without knowing it, Ariana had followed a well-known strategy suggested by Fisher & Ury in a very popular book on negotiation called Getting to Yes.
By asking why her sister wanted the Barbie, she was able to focus in on her sister’s “interest” and not her “position.” The book explains, "Your position is something you have decided upon. Your interests are what caused you to so decide." The idea is that if you understand another person’s reasons for wanting something it is then possible to work toward a creative solution that meets the needs of both sides—a collaboration, not a compromise.
Compromise May Not Be The Best Solution
For example, my girls could have decided to simply take turns with the Barbie. But clearly, a turn-taking compromise wouldn’t have been as good a solution as the collaboration. So, the main tip from today’s episode is to always ask and consider underlying interests, yours and those of your negotiation partner. This may help you discover a better solution, like Ariana did.
But what else can we learn from the Barbie negotiation? Emotion plays a role in all negotiations. I know when I argue a position I tend to get emotionally attached. I want it, because I want it. And when I’m all worked up, I’m not open to collaboration or compromise. Just like my girls when they were each tugging at poor Barbie.
Emotions Are a Part of Negotiation
However, if you’re willing to recognize that both your emotion and the emotion from the other side is normal and legitimate, it can help you to facilitate the negotiation. (In fact, if it’s a really bitter dispute, the feelings and emotions may be more important than the content).
Let the other side blow off steam. Try not to react to the emotional outbursts. If it’s really heated, you may want a third party to help facilitate the process. I always imagine it’s like two boxers going back to their corners; taking a little break to relax and think through strategy.
When you come back, you are in the right frame of mind for listening. Without carefully listening to both the interests and emotions of the other party, it’s impossible to develop a creative solution.
What I Learned From My Girls
So as crazy as it sounds, I think we can actually learn quite a bit from the Barbie battle. First, effective negotiation can be learned. If pre-schoolers can do it, so can you. By discussing underlying interests and not getting hung up on positions we can develop creative solutions to conflict. Finally, it’s important to remember that emotions will be part of every negotiation. We just need to incorporate that into our strategy as well.
With these tips, I hope you’re better able to navigate your next negotiation.
This is Lisa B. Marshall, passionate about communication, your success is my business.
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