4 Negotiation Techniques You Can Learn From Children FB

4 Negotiation Techniques You Can Learn From Children

by Ho Ting En

How many of us only think of professional negotiators and instructors when we want to learn more about negotiation? However, children themselves can actually be very good negotiators too! In this post, we will be looking at some negotiation techniques children use which we can adopt and adapt to be better negotiators.

Interestingly, a study conducted on preschool children who were presented with hypothetical conflict scenarios showed that 63% of them preferred negotiation as a conflict management strategy.1 This demonstrates that even children as young as 3 are capable of a mature understanding of conflict management.2 Of course, most young children will not be able to translate this understanding into concrete skills and they may also instinctively engage in positional bargaining. Nonetheless, here are four techniques we can learn from them.

 

(1) Be creative

Children are known to be imaginative. Childhood was probably the only period of our life when we ‘worked’ a different occupation every day or played with dolls that ‘transformed’ into mermaids.

We may already know that in negotiations, it is important to think creatively at the stage of generating options, so as not to box ourselves in. However, we can strengthen this notion by remembering how we were when we were younger. Children generally do not put down their ideas because they are “impractical” or “stupid”, at least not until they grow older and become influenced by peers and society. This quality is said to be the underlying reason for children’s special negotiating powers. Judgment hinders imagination, and imagination can be key to generating creative options that meet both parties’ needs in a much better way than a textbook solution. Therefore, we should not be afraid to be bold in playing with different possibilities and to really use our imagination without fear of judgement.

 

(2) Be direct about your needs

Young children are very direct, so a child often says, “I want this.” Adults are less straightforward, knowing that being too direct offends people and comes across as rude. However, clarity is important and sometimes, revealing your needs in a round-about manner is ineffective. As Fisher says in Getting to Yes, the chance of negotiation serving your interests “increases when you communicate them”. There is also less room for misunderstandings because the more openly we communicate, the less basis there is for suspicion. Imagine a husband who does not want to eat out because he is on a temporary healthy diet. He is probably better off being truthful than to reject all the restaurants the wife has suggested by saying that he dislikes their service.

 

(3) Play the repeat game

Children like to repeat other people’s words to irritate. We must have had at least one experience with a child who echoes us when we say, “Stop doing that!” Although this is typical childish behaviour, such parroting exercise is something we can actually replicate in negotiations.

However, our aim of repeating is not to annoy, but to reassure. This is because repeating parts of what the other person has said can show there is a common vision, which can be helpful in moving stalled negotiations forward. If two parties are negotiating over profit-sharing of a business, you can repeat that the partner taking the bigger risk should receive larger share, even as you disagree on how this risk should be calculated.3 At the very least, repeating the other person’s words can be a good way to summarise what you have heard to assure the other party that you have been listening.

 

(4) Find the right person to negotiate with

Finding the right person is a combination of checking out who would say “yes” and who has authority. Do you remember how as children, we look to the adult who is more likely to say “yes” because it increases the chances of getting what we want?

Similarly, as a negotiator, one way to increase success is to scope out the situation before making the first pitch, so as to choose the person who is more likely to react positively. Convincing one person first on the other negotiating team may also be a smart move in getting the eventual consensus of the entire team later. That said, a child will not ask his grandmother if he can have a dog if he knows that the true decision-making power lies with his mother. Likewise, we can approach someone who will say “yes” but should be mindful that it may not generate into a sustainable agreement if the person who says “yes” does not have authority or has no access to authority.

 

I hope this post has pointed out some of the interesting ways in which children can also be good negotiators. Perhaps the most valuable lesson we can draw from children is that they never give up. When they fail at one negotiation, they simply move on to the next one with just as much enthusiasm. At the end of the day, becoming a better negotiator is a process, and we can enhance this by learning from negotiations with those who are in the youngest and freshest phase of their lives. I hope this has been helpful!

To make sure you don’t miss out on regular updates from the Peacemakers Blog, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

 


Ting En is a graduate of National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law. She studied Negotiation as an undergraduate, as well as Mediation for the Singapore Bar Examinations. She has an avid interest in working with children and has participated in many related projects, from organising sports activities for underprivileged children to giving weekly tuition at a children’s home. During her time as an undergraduate, Ting En was also part of the committee in charge of the Innocence Project Singapore.

Peacemakers offers the services of internationally accredited mediators with extensive experience in resolving local and international conflicts. If you are involved in a dispute, let us know your requirements via email at mediate@peacemakers.sg, and we will recommend you the mediators that best meet your needs.

 


Lessons from Negotiating with Children_ Communicating Effectively and Building Relationships FB

Lessons from Negotiating with Children: Communicating Effectively and Building Relationships

by Ho Ting En

In this last part of a three-part series, we look at the interpersonal skills involved in a negotiation. This is a three-part series written based on the framework of the 7 Elements of Negotiation. For ease of reference and the convenience of readers, the links to Parts 1 and 2 are listed below:

 

Communication

Why is communication so important in a negotiation? Well, remember that in every negotiation, we are talking to someone who is not us. This sounds like I am just stating the obvious. However, conveying a message is not easy even for people with extensive amount of shared experiences. We carry our own assumptions and backgrounds that invariably influence the way we perceive messages we give and receive. In this regard, thinking about the way we communicate with children, with whom we cannot be more different from, forces us to evaluate the methods in which we convey our ideas. Here are 2 tips for better communication.

 

(1) Use short sentences:

We know long preambles do not work with children. This is why we break our sentences down into simple ones, and we instinctively speak in a succinct manner when communicating with children.

This technique is actually recommended for negotiations too. A negotiator should speak clearly to promote understanding. The longer the statement, the greater the chance of misinterpretation. One can avoid this risk by breaking complex messages into small parts and allowing pauses so that the other party can digest the information.1

 

(2) Do not trivialise the other side’s emotions; acknowledge them:

When a child reacts strongly in some way, telling the child, “I understand that you are angry, but…” may be more effective than saying dismissively, “This is nothing to get angry over.” Such a response acknowledges the child’s emotions with regard to his or her problems, which may take us one step closer towards resolution. In the same vein, we should not gloss over the other negotiating party’s position and feelings by trivialising them. Just as we acknowledge a child’s fears and insecurities, we should not ignore an adult’s emotions by thinking that they are necessarily insignificant. What we can do instead is to recognise that the feeling is valid, but that perhaps we can resolve and move past it for a successful negotiation.

One powerful form of acknowledgment of the other person’s feelings is an apology. A lesson we learn as children is that if we say, “I’m sorry”, our parents will not be angry anymore. Somehow, this is something we either forget or unlearn as we grow up. There is an example of a Columbia law professor whose 8-year-old son sat in his class because he could not find a babysitter. When the professor asked the contract class what the seller should do after having defaulted on delivery and the buyer stopped payment, his son spoke up, “I would say I’m sorry.”2 A classic contractual discussion on who is liable to pay damages turned out to be a valuable negotiation lesson.

Even if the other side is primarily responsible, we can still consider apologising for our part. The aim of this is to take responsibility for our share and our apology may bring about a corresponding acceptance of responsibility from the other side. This will then be a good step towards resuming a working relationship. However, an apology should be sincere. One quality of an effective apology in negotiations is that it should be the consequence of some analysis and introspection. If it comes off too spontaneously, it loses power and legitimacy.3

 

Relationship

Humans react, and what we do instinctively in a difficult situation is to act first, think later. However, as a quote from Ambrose Bierce goes, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” Sometimes, it may be better to stop negotiating temporarily in order for the relationship between both parties to resume its functional state.

Children throw tantrums because they think this is how they can get what they want.  In response, some parents utilise the “1-2-3” technique, which is a form of time-out. This supports the stopping of negotiation with children, which some of us may find surprising. However, this may be needed when the child simply has no interest in listening to any constructive arguments. In such situations, say firmly, “That’s one,” when the child whines. If he persists, say, “That’s two”. The final warning comes, “That’s three,” and the child is brought out of the room for a five-minute break. The point of this is to remove emotions from the discipline. Usually, the child returns with a glare but the fury has subsided and he is more likely to listen.

In situations when to continue negotiating is to create more conflict, a time-out to remove emotions is equally needed. Of course, in contrast to the “1-2-3” response where the child is taken out, here we are not removing the other party but ourselves from the emotional setting. It has been said that the easiest technique to minimise the impact of strong emotions is to interrupt the encounter with a short break. One way to achieve this is to suggest a coffee break. This removes negative emotions, and also provides opportunities for parties to cool down.

Where a break is not possible, some negotiators find that one of the most effective solutions is to remember the power of not reacting.4 William Ury inadvertently angered President Chavez on their first meeting when he was mediating between Chavez and his opposition in Venezuela. Instead of reacting, Ury waited for an hour until Chavez calmed down, before he started talking again. This time, Chavez was much more receptive to what Ury had to say. Similarly, rather than responding to the other side’s tantrums, it may be more powerful to exercise self-control and keep our focus on our objective of being in the negotiation.

 

Even as we are adults, we are still emotional beings. Thus, negotiating with children is a good reflection of negotiations which involve heightened feelings, difficult negotiators, or the inability to articulate the reasons behind our views. This is the last part of a series on lessons learnt from negotiating with children. I hope they has been helpful, and I wish you all the best with your future negotiations!

To make sure you don’t miss out on regular updates from the Peacemakers Blog, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

 


Ting En is a graduate of National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law. She studied Negotiation as an undergraduate, as well as Mediation for the Singapore Bar Examinations. She has an avid interest in working with children and has participated in many related projects, from organising sports activities for underprivileged children to giving weekly tuition at a children’s home. During her time as an undergraduate, Ting En was also part of the committee in charge of the Innocence Project Singapore.

Peacemakers offers the services of internationally accredited mediators with extensive experience in resolving local and international conflicts. If you are involved in a dispute, let us know your requirements via email at mediate@peacemakers.sg, and we will recommend you the mediators that best meet your needs.

 


Lessons from Negotiating with Children_ Generating Options and Finding Solutions FB

Lessons from Negotiating with Children: Generating Options and Finding Solutions

by Ho Ting En

In Part 1, we looked at understanding and obtaining interests of the other party to the negotiation. In this second part, we turn to the next step – generating options. This is a three-part series written based on the framework of the 7 Elements of Negotiation, which has been described in Part 1.

When we talk about option generation, we are looking at the process of brainstorming and generating variety of possibilities. At this stage, the key is to be creative and not limiting ourselves to only one idea as deciding on the option which becomes the final solution comes later. Here are 3 ways in which negotiating with children can hone our skill in this regard.

 

(1) Do not be fixated with the end goal:

Most parents agree that having a well-prepared plan to reach the goal is good, but not fool-proof. Children will somehow cause these plans to go awry. Sometimes, we are so focused on the end point that we want to get there in the most direct manner. However, if you have interacted with young children before, you would probably know that you are not going to reach the supermarket by driving straight to the store. The kids may be distracted; they may want a detour for ice-cream; or they might want to ride their scooters there. You will end up negotiating with your children on how to reach there, but that’s okay. The route you ultimately settle on may in fact be the best route for bringing everyone happily to the store.

In the same vein, we should be well-prepared for a negotiation but be mindful not to restrict ourselves to only one fixed option in reaching the goal. For example, I may have received defective goods from a supplier. Instinctively, I may directly demand for compensation, which after all, seems like the fastest option. However, if I take a step back rather than being fixated on wanting to settle the matter, I might see other options, such as requesting the supplier to undertake rectification of the defects. I could also ask for a replacement batch. Perhaps, I can keep the goods which are satisfactory and return the defective ones to the supplier. After all, my end goal and interest is to end up with goods that are of good quality.

By being open to the possibilities, we may just end up discovering a new route and/or inventing an option which we would not have seen if our eyes were fixated on the end goal. Having more options also means more chances of finding a solution which meets both parties’ interests.

 

(2) Invite the other party into generating options:

Imagine a child who wants to use the iPad. Rather than taking it away, you can discuss with the child on what she is using the iPad for and when she wants to use it. This can lead to the child coming up with a list of “things to do” before she can use the device. When the child participates in this decision-making, she is more likely to feel involved and be invested in the solution.

Similarly, in a negotiation, it is not as effective if parties arrive at an agreement with only one side pushing the process. Instead, we can invite the other party in generating options with us. This increases sense of joint ownership over the ideas and may motivate us to reach an agreement more quickly. Thus, while a salesman typically throws out a few options, and the customer chooses one, it may be better if the customer is allowed to build on the solutions offered and jointly work with the salesman for improved options1.

 

(3) Being flexible

Children especially like to negotiate on the amount of homework they are given, or the work they have to finish in class. Sometimes, I give them different options. Do they want to finish 2 sheets of questions during lesson and take 2 sheets home? Or do they want to finish all 4 at home? Or do they want to stay back a little and finish all 4? During this discussion, the child considers different factors, such as their free time at home, the time spent waiting after class for parents to pick them up, or whether they are really tired that day or not. More often than not, we then arrive at an acceptable outcome for us both. Rather than imposing strict instructions on them all the time, I find that occasional flexibility can work well on children.

In a negotiation, we can also be flexible, for example in terms of quantity and deadlines, so long as doing so will not compromise any bottom-lines, the quality or the project itself. Say a supplier has trouble delivering just for the month of June, but will be able to make up for the shortfall in quantity in July. In such a situation, the buyer can consider being flexible and agree to an option of delayed delivery so long as this does not affect the buyer adversely. This is especially so if the relationship between the buyer and supplier is something worth maintaining.

 

Through Part 1 and Part 2, we can better understand how to derive Interests and Options, which are two elements that help us in reaching an agreement. In the last part, we will look at the elements of Communication and Relationship, which are more about soft skills and interactions with people.

To make sure you don’t miss out on regular updates from the Peacemakers Blog, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

 


Ting En is a graduate of National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law. She studied Negotiation as an undergraduate, as well as Mediation for the Singapore Bar Examinations. She has an avid interest in working with children and has participated in many related projects, from organising sports activities for underprivileged children to giving weekly tuition at a children’s home. During her time as an undergraduate, Ting En was also part of the committee in charge of the Innocence Project Singapore.

Peacemakers offers the services of internationally accredited mediators with extensive experience in resolving local and international conflicts. If you are involved in a dispute, let us know your requirements via email at mediate@peacemakers.sg, and we will recommend you the mediators that best meet your needs.

 


Lessons from Negotiating with Children_ Uncovering and Meeting Interests FB

Lessons from Negotiating with Children: Uncovering and Meeting Interests

by Ho Ting En

Have you ever thought that talking to children is either entertaining or just a chore? Well, turns out that one of the best learning opportunities to improve our negotiating abilities comes from negotiating with children. While parenting articles and books increasingly advocate negotiation with children as a way to teach them to think critically and weigh the value of options, such practice can actually also benefit us, the adults.

Negotiations with children allow us to better handle difficult situations, as they can similarly exhibit behaviour that mirror challenging adult negotiations. In this first part of a three-part series, we will look at how negotiation with children helps us obtain interests of the other party.

This series is developed according to 7 Elements of Negotiation, as espoused in the seminal book, Getting to Yes, by Roger Fisher and William Ury. This book focuses on principled negotiation, rather than positional bargaining.  The latter is a negotiation strategy where parties hold on to a position and push for it, regardless of their underlying interests. On the other hand, principled negotiation focuses on looking at the interests behind the position taken.  The 7 Elements – interests, options, legitimacy, communication, relationship, alternatives and commitment – offers us a framework upon which we can carry out principled negotiation.

 

Today, we will be looking at interests.

Behind every position taken, there is an interest. For example, “I want a pay raise” is a position, where the underlying interest could be wanting more recognition for the work done. Sometimes, it is easy to understand someone else’s interest, especially if it is obvious or if they offer to explain. However, often, most of us do not realise that what we are insisting upon are just positions, or we may just be unwilling to share our thoughts.

Given that children start requesting for things as young as 2, negotiating with them may have actually given us constant practice in trying to reach someone’s interest without sacrificing our own. Here are 3 tips to help you with your next negotiation:

 

(1) Ask questions:

Asking questions to children is second-nature to us because we know that they struggle to articulate their feelings. Hence, we take the initiative to ask, “Why are you sad?”

However, the inability to articulate is just as relevant to adults, whose interests can be intangible or difficult to be described. Asking “why” helps us understand what is important to the other party. With people who do not want to disclose their interests, William Ury suggests in Getting Past No that asking “why not” could indirectly achieve the same effect. This is because people who are reluctant to share their concerns may instead be willing to critique. By getting them to comment on your approach, you obtain valuable information on what their concerns could be. Therefore, if you ask, “Why not do it this way?” and the person replies, “No! I have two jobs and I have children to take care of!”, you would have received the information you needed.

If the other side still remains silent, you can offer what you think their interests are. Children may be unwilling to divulge information, but they can nonetheless be tempted to correct someone’s misunderstanding of their interests. From personal experience of teaching young children from 3 to 8-years-old, I find that gently asking sullen children questions such as, “Are you sad because this question is too difficult?” is usually more effective than, “What happened?” The former question may prompt a child to reply that it was not because of the work but because he is hungry, while the latter may generate no response. This instinctive urge to remedy others’ misunderstandings is just as strong in adults. Try bringing their interests up and invite them to correct you. Remember however, that this approach aims to encourage responses by making proposals of your own. The intention is to trigger reaction and to acquire information, not to accuse or to force the other party to say ‘yes’.

 

(2) Do not let the other party negotiate around you:

Negotiating around someone is different from negotiating with someone. Children commonly negotiate around adults when they want their way. A child might persist in going for a sleepover at a friend’s house by protesting, “You said I shouldn’t sit around the house doing nothing!” You might have concerns about her safety since she is still young, but she may then retort, “I am old enough!” or “You allowed sister to go for a sleepover.” By ignoring your concerns, the child is exhibiting behaviour of ‘negotiating’ around the parent. In reality, the parent says, “Yes,” not because she sees value in the proposal but because she is tired of arguing.

Likewise, it is important to realise when the other negotiator is in fact working around you, rather than with you. Sometimes, we may face negotiators who belittle our alternatives, “NO way that’s going to work,” make personal insults, “Are you stupid?”, or even just flat-out refuse to cooperate by repeatedly saying, “No.” It may be useful to consider if you are given room to genuinely discuss your interests and options. Otherwise, you may risk agreeing to a proposal which does not give sufficient consideration to your interests.

 

(3) Do not make important decisions on the spot:

Some parents advise not making important decisions on the spot as it will be difficult to change your answer later even if you want to. Changing from “no” to “yes” may lead the child to think that what he did in the interim, such as crying, was useful. In the same vein, changing from “yes” to “no” may cause you to break a promise. To prevent both situations, tell the child honestly that you need some time to think and that you will answer by the end of the day.

This similarly applies to the negotiations where some like to play tricks by sneaking in a proposal at the close of discussions. When the other negotiator says, “So I assume warranty is included?”, refrain from saying “yes” on the spot just because of the pressure. This is because in so doing, you would have undermined a fair treatment of your interests, and changing your answer after the negotiation risks jeopardising the deal. As Ury said in Getting Past No, your worst enemy is your quick reaction. In these situations, do not be afraid to point out that you have suddenly been presented with an important proposal and that you either need more time to consider or both parties should re-open the negotiation.

 

This is the end of Part 1, where I have hopefully shown how negotiating with children helps us develop skills to obtain the other side’s interests while addressing our own. In the next part, we will discuss the process of generating options.

To make sure you don’t miss out on regular updates from the Peacemakers Blog, please like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram.

 


Ting En is a graduate of National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Law. She studied Negotiation as an undergraduate, as well as Mediation for the Singapore Bar Examinations. She has an avid interest in working with children and has participated in many related projects, from organising sports activities for underprivileged children to giving weekly tuition at a children’s home. During her time as an undergraduate, Ting En was also part of the committee in charge of the Innocence Project Singapore.

Peacemakers offers the services of internationally accredited mediators with extensive experience in resolving local and international conflicts. If you are involved in a dispute, let us know your requirements via email at mediate@peacemakers.sg, and we will recommend you the mediators that best meet your needs.

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