You would think that negotiation professors would be among the best at picking and choosing their times to negotiate, right? We prepare, analyze our BATNA, come up with good options, set the mood, work on the relationship, order in food, and get set to have a wonderful collaborative experience. We also know when to avoid negotiation–because we are not ready or the subject is not sufficiently compelling–and save our energy for next negotiation. Lisa Bingham has written quite beautifully on many good ideas for Avoiding Negotiation in her chapter for The Negotiator’s Fieldbook.
So what was I thinking walking into Toys-R-Us in Times Square on Friday after Thanksgiving with a six-year-old? Apparently, I was not thinking at all! The finer points of market economics (why should we pay $17 for a Webkinz stuffed animal at Toys-R-Us when I just saw them around the corner at 2 for $20) are somewhat lost on small children. Even the usually persuasive “that means you can buy two additional packs of gum for the money you save” was not going to work once the expectation had been set that shopping would be done. And I suppose that was the crucial mistake–promising a deal when, in fact, the best deal was to walk away. It’s hard to explain BATNA to a sobbing six-year-old.
In any case, it was a good lesson to be reminded of the negotiations we do not want to have and why the underrated, underappreciated skill of avoiding is really a crucial one–for parents and for all of us who realize too late that we should never have walked through the door….