Blankley on “What I did on my summer vacation”

From FOI Kristen Blankley (Nebraska): What I Did on My Sumer Vacation . . . . or . . . . Everything I Need To Know About Negotiation, I Learned From Pre-Schoolers?

Having spent quite a bit of time over the summer around pre-schoolers, “Aunt Kristen” has learned quite a bit about negotiation in the most unlikeliest place. While this essay may come as no surprise to seasoned parents, I find watching children try to get what they want to be quite enlightening. Kids intuitively utilize both distributive and integrative bargaining skills without realizing it – they just know what they want and go after it. Here is a brief list of some of the most common techniques that children use to negotiate and how we adults can learn from them and grow into better negotiators.

Rule 1: If you don’t at first succeed, try, try, again. Many children are not satisfied with “no.” Kids simply ask again. Sometimes right away. Sometimes two minutes later. Sometimes the next day. In other words, children are persistent. Why, then, do most adults let things go after one “no”? Unlike kids, adults get self-conscious and discouraged after the first “no.” If adults can act persistently, yet tactfully and respectfully, taking a lesson from the kids might help us achieve our goals.

Rule 2: If mom says “no,” ask dad . . . or grandma . . . or Aunt Kristen. Just as with Rule 1, Rule 2 is another rule about persistence. Children will often simply ask a different principal for what they want (like a cookie or to play outside) until someone says “yes.” Unless the adults are a united front (and sometimes, they are not), the kids will usually find someone to cater to their wants. Adults seem to get more discouraged after hearing one “no” and do not seem to think about getting their “yes” from someone else with authority. Again, kids can teach adults a little something about persistence.

Rule 3: Bargain with as many allies as possible. Children intuitively understand how to rally allies and outnumber their opponent. Rather than taking on dad alone, the kids will rally their brothers and sisters, cousins, and friends to all outnumber and outpower their negotiating counterpart. This tactic is a classic one for distributive bargainers. Outnumbering an opponent can give a bargainer an effective psychological advantage (one that I am keenly aware of having been outnumbered 12-2 in a complex governmental settlement discussion). Although the power dynamic between adults and children is vast, children intuitively attempt to balance the power differential by rallying allies.

Rule 4: If you give me what I want, I promise to be good. If Rules 1, 2, and 3 don’t work, then children start using a traditional distributive bargaining system. I will eat three more bites of my dinner if you give me a cookie. I will clean up my toys if I can play in the sprinkler. Debates over how many more minutes before bedtime. We learn from a very young age how to bargain, primarily in a distributive manner. We easily understand that 10 more minutes to play before bedtime is better than 5 more minutes. We also understand that 5 more minutes is better than no more minutes, so we learn from an early age how to aim high and make small concessions. Unfortunately, many adults do not seem to move beyond these skills learned intuitively at a very early age and do not consider collaborative bargaining techniques.

Rule 5: Show how this is actually good for YOU. As children get a little older, they begin to pick up some techniques of collaborative bargaining. In particular, children start to understand that showing how something is good for the parent gives them additional bargaining leverage in their negotiation. A good example goes something like this: “You should buy me this new iPad, dad, because I know how much you want me to do well in school.” This is a more sophisticated method of bargaining because it seeks to address the interests’ of the negotiating counterpart. In some ways, this type of bargaining in a rudimentary form of collaborative bargaining, looking at the interests of the other and seeking to satisfy them. These are the types of skills that adults should be working on, but with additional sophistication and thoughtfulness.

So, what can we learn from the mouths of babes? If adults can learn anything about negotiation from children, it is to recall the persistence that we used to have when we were young and to not give up negotiating after hearing one “no.” Our techniques, however, should develop with age as we learn how to bargain in a more sophisticated manner through collaborative and integrative bargaining techniques, focusing on interests and anticipating our counterparts’ issues and interests.

One thought on “Blankley on “What I did on my summer vacation””

  1. This is fantastic Kristen, and very true. Of course there is also diminishing the parent’s BATNA, which can be done through whining, throwing things, or “If you don’t give me this I am going to kill you.”

    – parent of Samuel (10) and Ben (7)

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