The Negotiator

Negotiating with children is often viewed as poor parenting and a strategy to be avoided at all costs. I couldn’t disagree more. The truth is, teaching children to become effective negotiators is an important way of empowering them to be independent decision-makers and capable problem-solvers.

As parents, we often feel threatened (or vastly annoyed) when our children attempt to negotiate with us. It is, without a doubt, a trying and frustrating process. Nevertheless, it is an important skill and one that we should encourage. That said, negotiating with a Negotiator is no small feat.

Having been a corporate lawyer in my prior life, I should not be surprised that my oldest lives and breathes deal-making. From early on, we have embraced his negotiation tendencies and although we’ve had our fair share of missteps, we’ve also been able to identify some very useful strategies and tips which I’ll provide below (and please, feel free to add your own).

First and foremost, you need to establish Negotiation Ground Rules. They are three and they are quite simple:

  1. Be Respectful
  2. Be Fair
  3. Be Flexible

These rules apply to all parties in the Negotiation (including you, and that is key). Most of the challenges that arise in a negotiation, particularly with our children, are due to the breach of one or more of these three ground rules. However, when these three ground rules are honored, negotiations tend to go smoothly and have positive results.

Respect is the manifestation of esteem for another.

It lies at the core of any successful interaction (success being understood as the favorable result of our efforts). Without it, not only will our efforts be inefficient (as a result of the increased time we spend trying to achieve a specific goal when we’ve fostered an environment that breeds contempt) but, they will rarely exceed our basic expectations, something that requires collaboration and productive third party input (seldom found where there is a lack of respect).

Now, it’s easy to think that negotiating with our children is far more inefficient and unsuccessful then simply obligating them to do what we want. However, that line of thinking fails to take into account the fact that we still have to live with our children every day and no single interaction exists in isolation.

Thus, we may have won a single battle but it has come at the price of creating animosity between the parties, distrust, frustration, and a growing inability to work together; all of which will, in the long run, result in far more complicated and challenging interactions.

To learn more about the role of Respect in negotiations, read this.

Want some more tips on how to promote Respect?

Fairness is simple: offer similar opportunities under similar circumstances.

Does this mean that both parties should get the same things? No. Should they be allowed to do the same things? Of course not. Should they be treated the same? Not necessarily. The two key elements are opportunities and circumstances. When the circumstances are the same for two people, they should be given the same opportunities. However, if the circumstances differ, the opportunities will differ as well.

We oftentimes draw on the notion that “life is unfair” when trying to justify our choices with our children. Unfortunately, not only is this an erroneous statement (it assumes that Life owes us something which it has failed to deliver) but, it is often used as a license to be unfair.

Even assuming that the intended variation of this statement is right – i.e. circumstances in our life are less than ideal for us relative to how they are for someone else – that doesn’t mean that we should foster unfairness in our homes.

On the contrary, fairness should be a default position and unfairness the sad and unfortunate exceptions. Negotiations are all about identifying fair scenarios and that requires that we teach our children what fairness truly is.

To learn more about the role of Fairness in negotiations, read this

Want some more tips on how to promote Fairness?

Flexibility is about recognizing that we are dealing with fallible, error-making, continuously learning, imperfect humans in ever-changing circumstances.

We are works in constant progress and every experience brings with it a wealth of new challenges and unique problems. That means that our old solutions need to be adapted in order to address new concerns. Without the flexibility to do adapt, we will simply stop developing.

To be flexible requires that we have a core of key principles that define who we are and what we believe is right, principles that are integral to our identity. These principles inform the rules of conduct that we create to govern the relationships we have with others and the world around us.

These rules, however, are subject to new experiences, to changes in the circumstances around us, or challenges posed by the relationships we have. As a result, our rules may change. This does not, however, mean that our principles have been compromised – an important distinction.

Being flexible as a parent is about being able to change the rules, without changing the principles. It means that every situation is different and requires a different approach; that sometimes there is a need for compromise and collaboration and sometimes we need to adjust for our and our children’s growth.

Flexibility is essential to good parenting and it is critical to successful negotiations.

To learn more about the role of Flexibility in negotiations, read this.

Want some more tips on how to promote Flexibility?