My previous Blog “Negotiating to buy a house” triggered a few requests for more on the same topic, including some who asked for help in negotiating with their children! I profess no expertise in this field whatsoever (just ask my wife if you don’t believe me!), but hey, knowing nothing about something and then training people in it is what I do for a living, so why should that be a barrier? (Joke).
It’s funny, normally when I Blog I sit down with nothing in my head whatsoever, and 30 minutes later I have a Blog. A stream of consciousness I believe it’s called: no plan, no structure, straight from the hip. This topic, though, has stopped me in my tracks, and I have had to think about it long and hard before putting digit to keyboard. I conclude that negotiating with your children is a really tricky area, and there are no easy solutions.
I have two things to say on the subject. They are not the complete answer, but they may be a part of it. The first is that Win/Win outcomes are really difficult to achieve if you do not have an Adult to Adult relationship with the other person. Exploring options in a calm, creative and logical way is very difficult to do if one of the parties is not being Adult. Because we are dealing with actual children here (and they belong to us, which makes this much harder), inherently it is easy for the transaction to slip into Parent-Child. Our language can so easily revert to the default of “You need to…” or “You shouldn’t…..” and so on, with the result that the other person will very probably become a Child back: “that’s not fair”, “why me not him”, “I don’t see why I should”, you know the phrases as well as I do.
Remedy: concentrate with all your might on an Adult transaction (even if they are only 3 years old they can do Adult): keep it calm, ask questions, acknowledge their point of view, and ask what alternatives there might be. Work on it together with all your creativity, and if you feel yourself losing it, adjourn the discussion. “Let’s talk again about it in the morning” is often a masterful tactic.
The second thought I have is about how impossible it is to find a Win/Win when there is emotion in the air. Kids seem to pick up on this, and have a knack of asking for things when you are thus vulnerable. They time their requests (who knows how consciously) when you are in a hurry, are juggling three things at once, are exhausted or stressed, and in so doing they immediately gain power. You can’t think straight, but they can, and so they have the upper hand.
Also in my experience they play to emotions which are more powerful because they are your own children. How much stronger are our feelings of Guilt, Fear, Pride and the like when the implications are on our own offspring? Children seem to know which of those buttons to push, and when they do so the chances are we don’t think straight, we act impulsively and of course all of those Conscious Competence techniques we use daily in our professional lives go out of the window. Call yourself a professional? You are a mere ball of putty in their hands, and – what’s more – you know it.
Remedy: when you recognise the symptoms of the emotional response in yourself, slow the transaction down or get out ouf it. Negotiate instead on when you are going to negotiate. “Let’s talk about it when we go for a walk” might give you the chance to talk on your terms when you have a chance to revisit the logical version of you!
Just to finish on a lighter note, I’ve created various short videos on the subject of Negotiation and Conflict, and here’s an outtake from one I made on the subject of always having a BANANA in your pocket (BANANAS enable you to walk away and do the deal later/with someone else/on different terms).
I’d love to know what works for you: maybe we can build a compendium of negotiating tactics for parents. To be kept under the bed and referred to in moments of being on the back foot. That’ll be every day then, in my case. Wish I’d had it 15 years ago.