The art of negotiation

At about eighteen months, my son started to display his will. It all began one night when he wasn’t feeling well and I was trying to get him into the bath, an activity he usually ran to participate in. On this night, however, he simply refused, kicking up such a fuss that a stranger walking by might easily assume that he was being tarred and feathered.

My mother, visiting at the time, decided to soap him up outside of the tub. When I tried to dunk him in, I was met by an absolute refusal. At this point, desperate enough to resort to bribery, I said “I’ll give you a cookie if you get into the tub for one second”. And that was enough to start a chain of interactions that changed my viewpoint forever.

“Cookie? No candy.” This, from the child who had only ever eaten candy once before, made me realize that I was dealing with a great negotiator. “Ok, candy.” “No, two candy.” Flabbergasted, I agreed, “OK, two candies”, thinking that for effort alone I should reward him with what he demanded. In response, I was told “Blue candy and green candy.” “OK”. And with that, negotiations were complete and for the first, but not last, I was bested by my son.

Years later I still reflect on this incident, thinking about how much my son has taught me about the art of getting to yes. And about how he much he has taught me about the irrelevance of absolutes in this world.

When I was younger, I saw the world in terms of black and white. Although I knew that shades of grey existed, I had a hard time recognizing them. Things were either wrong or right and there was generally only one way of doing things. As I grew older, I slowly and painfully through much trial and error learned the art of perspective and the ability to step into another’s shoes.

Now, as a parent, I try to remember that things aren’t always as they appear and that there is validity in another vantage point, even if it comes from someone who is a fraction of my size. And so, our daily interactions are routinely marked by a series of negotiations around how things will unfold and the events that will take place. Throughout it all, I try to remember to give in when it doesn’t make a difference, even if it’s not the way that I would choose, and to stand strong on the important issues that actually matter in the long run.

Looking forward, I hope that if I can teach my son to be flexible while helping him to hone his innate negotiating skills, he’ll be ahead of the game, able to adjust and adapt to change while staying true to his own goals and harness the power around him to bring to life an environment in which everyone feels fulfilled and empowered.