How to Win Without Giving In

What a 4 year old can teach you about negotiating agreements.

Lisa B. Marshall
Episode #021

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.

When negotiating most people aim for a compromise. Give a little to get a little. 


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall
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