The Art of Negotiation (as taught by a four-year old…)

(Author’s Note: I was recently scrolling through our archive of old blog posts. And I came across this one, which I wrote in 2014. It is a simple story about an interaction with my then-four-year-old son, where he outmaneuvered me at the frozen yogurt shop. But as is often the case, the simple story illustrates an important message, this time about the art of negotiation. Enjoy!)

I spent the entire day yesterday with my four-year old son. We had quite a nice little Saturday. We woke up early, had breakfast together, and then went out for some man-style shopping. Home Depot was the highlight, for some tools. We then came home and spent several hours in the yard together. We cut down branches, did some planting, pulled out a few weeds, cleaned the garage. I use the term “we” rather loosely. My son did more directing and playing in his sandbox, while Dad did most of the work. But it was fine, and we had a great day together.

After a few hours of this, I took Zach to the local frozen yogurt shop for a treat. He had “earned” it, and I’m pretty sure that the prospect of some fro-yo was greatly motivating his helpful demeanor all day. So we went, and I was under strict instructions from Mom not to overindulge him and to limit the number of toppings on his treat. We walk into the shop and immediately began the negotiating on what he could get.

Zach made the initial offering at “four toppings, daddy.” I protested and said no to that. I countered with two toppings. Zach stuck with a hard line on four. I stuck to my own limit of two. We were at an impasse. But my little guy had a little trick up his sleeve. He stood there with his cup of topping-less frozen yogurt, looked up at me with his four-year-old sad eyes, and said “OK, daddy. Can we agree on three?” I melted a bit (Just as his fro-yo was beginning to do the same), and we compromised at three toppings for his chocolate frozen yogurt. He selected mini M&Ms, chocolate sauce and whipped cream. Everyone was happy.

And then, as he devoured his treat, and his face was covered with chocolate, he says to me, without even looking in my direction, “You know daddy… three toppings was what I wanted all along. I got what I wanted.”

Ouch… Out-maneuvered by a four-year-old.

Simple message today… plan out ahead of time what you want from your negotiations and business communications. Always have a goal. And then make sure you have a plan that will increase your chances of getting to that goal. Zach’s plan was pretty straightforward: ask for more than you are hoping for and be able to negotiate downward to a still-acceptable level; and stare at daddy with big blue four-year-old eyes, slightly glistening with (probably fake) tears.

A masterful performance by the little man, and a lesson to daddy to never let down his guard and to always be ready to negotiate without emotion at any time.

Have a great day.

Does your team:
– Take too long to make decision?
– Fail to ask for what it wants or needs from you?
– Make things too complicated?
– Deliver unconvincing or disorganized presentations?
– Have new hires who are unprepared to communicate in the workplace?

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Brett Slater

A book about change

The Latimer Group’s CEO Dean Brenner is a noted keynote speaker and author on the subject of persuasive communication. He has written three books, including Persuaded, in which he details how communication can transform organizations into highly effective, creative, transparent environments that succeed at every level.