Several months ago I did a 30-minute presentation before a very intimidating group – my son’s 4th grade class. My goal? Help them learn one or two crucial negotiation concepts and make my son proud (or at least not embarrassed).
While negotiation is a fundamental business skill, its concepts also apply to how children interact and socialize with each other. It also, of course, applies to how parents and kids communicate.
In fact, a recent New York Times article, “Teaching Social Skills to Improve Grades and Lives,” described a new study that found social skills of kindergartners that included: “cooperates with peers without prompting”; “is helpful to others”; “is very good at understanding feelings”; and “resolves problems on own” were predictive of a whole host of successful outcomes 13 to 19 years later.
So what should we be teaching our kids to help them learn and use these skills? Here are three, each of which parents – as an impactful parenting tool – should model for and with their kids.
1. Focus on interests – ask why
Good problem-solving skills always involve finding out the individuals’ interests underlying the problem. Don’t just find out what they want but why they want it.
I asked my son’s class to pick something they wanted from their parents and tell me how they tried to get it. While one kid tongue-in-cheek said he “extorts” things from his parents (a form of leverage, right?), one girl said she and her siblings wanted to go to Disneyland.
What did her parents do? They took a jar and marbles and each time a kid did a good deed or exhibited particularly positive behavior they put a marble in the jar. Once the jar was full, they would go to Disneyland
This system satisfied the kids’ interests – having fun at Disneyland – while also satisfying their parents’ interests – ensuring their kids behaved really well.
The best way to help kids focus on interests is to encourage them to explore why they or their friends want something. Why is it important to not call someone names or to not cut in line? Why shouldn’t John always play quarterback during lunchtime football games?
They should also explain “why” if they want something – I want this app because it will help me learn the presidents’ names and we’re going over this in school.
I tell our kids “why” is the magic question in the negotiation world.
2. Ask and listen
The Greek philosopher Epictetus almost 2000 years ago said “we have two ears and one mouth so that we can listen twice as much as we speak.” This is great advice. Encourage your kids – especially the more talkative ones – to listen more.
Suggest they ask more questions, too. Effective negotiators ask twice as many questions as others.
Negotiation and problem-solving is more about asking and listening than arguing and persuading.
3. Brainstorm solutions with them
Each Friday, during what they called Community Builder time, my son’s class would address a list of issues or problems someone had experienced that week and that they had written down. They would a) explore the issue and interests involved through questioning and listening, b) brainstorm possible solutions, and c) vote on the best solution.
I like this exercise because it emphasizes the above strategies and involves and empowers the students to take an active role in finding a beneficial solution that satisfies all their interests, including the teacher’s.
It also helps the students understand how it feels to be in another student’s shoes, a crucial problem-solving skill.
Of course, exercises like this must be age appropriate, and parents and teachers sometimes have to set policies and enforce them like a “benevolent dictator,” as my Dad used to say.
But exercises like this will help create the great negotiators of tomorrow.
Latz’s Lesson: Helping kids explore interests, ask and listen more, and brainstorm their own solutions will lead to effective problem-solving skills for kids’ – and for life’s – negotiations.
Note: This column includes insights from 10-year-old Jason Latz.
Published August 2, 2015 The Arizona Republic