Negotiation: What You Can Learn From Kids

Negotiation is anything but confrontation – it’s cooperation, and your kids have got the basic principles down pat, explains international negotiation expert Bill Garcia

Children are intrinsically expert negotiators - watch them to learn some of the basics of good negotiation!

If you’re like a lot of people, you’ve spent most of your life avoiding situations where you’re expected to negotiate. You pay a fixed price, cringe at the idea of haggling with a car sales rep – you may even avoid the give and take of a weekend rummage sale to avoid negotiation.

Many people fear negotiation because they equate it with conflict. They see it as a clash of the wills, a fight to the finish, where the biggest bully wins all the marbles. To them, negotiation is confrontation, and — you’ve heard them say it — they “hate confrontation.”

The truth is, negotiation is anything BUT confrontation.

Negotiation is Cooperation

Negotiation is universal to the human race.  It’s not Western thought, or Eastern thought – it’s a process of cooperation that’s common to every country and every culture. The purpose of negotiation is to facilitate trade or exchange – the very essence of cooperation. Conflict, by contrast, involves stealing property or fighting wars over real estate.

Persuasion, Haggling, Trading Concessions

Generally speaking, negotiation involves these three basic behaviors: persuasion, haggling and trading concessions.

Persuasion is where logic, facts and data are employed to change or influence behavior. Trading concessions involve multiple elements orchestrated into a complex scenario. Haggling employs a variety of techniques over a short period of time — usually to affect price.

If you want to see how natural all of this really is, just watch children.

Watch the Children

Children negotiate EVERY DAY on school playgrounds around the world — even though they have no capital or training. That’s because children intrinsically understand the Golden RULE of Negotiation: Never GIVE anything without GETTING something in return.

On the playground, this “giving/getting” means “You can try my Game Boy if I can read your comic book.” Or “You can borrow my basketball if I can ride your bike.” Kids understand that they should never give up something of value, unless they get something in return.

The examples above reflect just that — the value kids place on such items. A comic book may cost far less than an electronic game system – but does a child know that? To a kid both represent imagination, adventure and fun – entertaining diversions from their day-to-day life. Hence, the value is similar.

”Kids understand the Golden Rule of Negotiation: Never Give anything without Getting something in return.”

Negotiating with Adults

How smart are kids? They use this same give-to-get strategy with people who have values far different from their own – authority figures known as parents. They do this by seeing what we have, learning what we value and playing us for all it’s worth. It’s a game that starts at birth and goes on for twenty years.

Ask your kids to pick up their toys, and they ask for candy, a treat, a special privilege. We say “Do this,” and a child replies “I’ll DO this — if you give me THAT.”

If kids can successfully negotiate with adults using time, toys and treats – imagine how successful you can be in business, with the arsenal of tools your company puts at your disposal.

You can apply the SAME rule when you deal with buyers or sellers in your job. You can give only when you get. For example, if a seller wants more money “down,” you can ask for extended warranties. If you’re the seller and a buyer wants free training for a product, you can ask for accelerated payments.

And those are just two examples! As a businessperson representing a company, you have many other things that can enter the negotiation mix:

Basic Negotiation Items

  • Accelerated payment
  • Credit Terms
  • Delivery dates
  • Extended warranties
  • Installation fees
  • Schedules
  • Spare parts
  • Start up services
  • Support services
  • Training/Instruction

And those are just a few of the many items at your disposal – items we explore in our workshops to help you sharpen your negotiation skills.

For now, just remember this basic rule, the rule you once understood as a child. A rule you can APPLY on behalf of your company today. The Golden Rule of Negotiation:  Never give anything, without getting something of value in return.

Observe that rule in any negotiation – simple or complex, large or small – and you’ll always find a path to success.

Bill Garcia is a a worldwide contract negotiator, negotiation trainer and motivational speaker, and the Founder and Managing Partner at Tableforce.