I have an eight and a three year old and, like all kids their ages, they can be challenging. So I recently read the classic parenting book “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk,” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Interestingly, much of its advice also applies to negotiations.
Here are three of its negotiation-related suggestions.
* Help your kids deal with their feelings. Faber/Mazlish recognize that children experience a wide range of feelings while growing up and need to have their parents accept and acknowledge those feelings. How?
First, listen with full attention. Active and focused listening is a theme I often revisit here, and effective negotiators listen extremely well. Second, acknowledge your child’s feeling with a descriptive word or phrase, perhaps with one that gives a name to their feeling and shows empathy. “It can really hurt to lose a pet, and I can tell you deeply cared for him.”
Importantly, they note, don’t question the legitimacy of the feeling (“there’s no reason to be upset”) or give advice concerning it (“you wouldn’t be frustrated if you had listened to me”).
Negotiations also involve parties’ feelings. Let’s say you want buy some local dermatology clinics and scale them nationally, and you need the entrepreneur-owner to stay actively involved. In the negotiation, the entrepreneur expresses some hesitancy about selling, saying how much she has enjoyed building her clinics. She says she is worried about reporting to someone after years in charge.
Don’t diminish her feelings by saying “don’t worry about it – we have management experts to help you.”
Instead, say “it sounds like you’re concerned over giving up the independence you so highly value. We also value it and have no interest in limiting your ability to use your proven expertise to grow your clinics nationally.”
* Engage cooperation. How do you get your kids to do something? Faber/Mazlish first point out ineffective ways, including threats (“touch that again and you will get a spanking”), lecturing (“what you need to understand is they will be polite if you are polite”), and commands (“take out the garbage now”).
These methods also don’t work well in negotiations. Threats put your counterparts on the defensive and rarely generate productive environments. Lecturing is akin to trying to persuade your counterpart to accept your proposal – and you’re better off exploring their interests first and then showing how your proposal satisfies their interests. And commands seldom work where parties have choices.
What should you do? One, Faber/Mazlish recommend giving information. Don’t command your child to “set the table now.” Instead, say “it would really be helpful if the table were set now.” This empowers your child to decide and doesn’t put him/her on the defensive.
Likewise, in negotiations say “we have several entrepreneurs like yourself with whom we have worked, and I’m sure they would be happy to discuss your concerns.”
Two, write a note to your child. “Sometimes,” Faber/Mazlish state, “nothing is as effective as the written word.” I agree. Putting a negotiation offer or proposal in writing focuses attention on it and adds legitimacy to it. People tend to believe more of what they read than what they hear.
* Problem-solve. Finally, for more complex challenges, Faber/Mazlish recommend problem-solving, defined as a) talk about your kid’s feelings and needs, b) talk about your feelings and needs, c) brainstorm to find a mutually agreeable solution, d) writing down possible solutions without evaluating, and e) decide on the best and put together a plan to make it happen.
This almost exactly tracks the interest-based approach in the classic negotiation book “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In,” and that I have discussed in previous columns.
Kids can be our toughest counterparts. But long-term success with them – future well-adjusted, self-confident adults – may turn into our most fulfilling negotiations.
Published July 5, 2013 The Arizona Republic