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.

Positively half full

Some days I wake up on the wrong side of the bed. On these mornings, my first thoughts generally run along the lines of “I have so much to do today, I’m so tired, can’t I sleep for just ten more minutes, it’s raining out. Again.” As these thoughts flow through my head, dragging my spirit down, I physically propel my body out of bed and into the shower. As the water rains down on me, I try not to let the negativity overwhelm me, resisting the undertow that threatens to engulf me and cast a shadow upon my day.

And then, inevitably, as I walk into my son’s room, listening to his squeals of delight as he talks to his brown and yellow bears, outlining his plans for the day, my spirits begin to lift. As I see his smiling face, radiating an expectation that only positive and good things will happen throughout the day, I am struck by how much our perception shapes our experience.

As a child, my mother tried to be positive. To this day, she thinks that she is a positive influence, emphasizing only the good. And, although she is supportive in terms of the bigger picture items, as an adult, some of my strongest memories are of her petty negativities that permeated our daily routine.

When I asked my brother if this was also his experience, he started to laugh. In response to my question, he reminds me of the times when my mother would inevitably pick the wrong line up in the supermarket and, as other shoppers in longer lines would be rung through first, begin to tap her foot in annoyance and complain under her breath, making the extra minutes not only feel longer but leaving a sour aftertaste our mouths that would bleed into our next activity.

And then I realized how much this all-pervasive negativity had become my own default mindset, occurring as if by generational osmosis. As a parent, I find myself in constant battle between the now innate negativity that I have absorbed and the parent that I want to be – positive, nurturing, and ever-hopeful.

Looking at my son, I see a clean slate. In his world, only the good exists. Snow coming down in white silver wet sheets is as fantastic as melting ice cream dribbling down his chin on a sunny summer afternoon. The world is new to him, unmarred by the scars of experience, each moment savored for its unexpected novelty and beauty.

And I know that if I can keep his rose colored glasses somewhat intact, he will always operate from a better vantage point. Since the ability to take pleasure in the world’s tiniest joys, from the gleam of a shiny green apple against a smooth slate brown plate to the warmth that a stranger’s smile generates, can make or break your day, having a constant perspective of the cup being half full means that the world seems infinitely more hopeful, with endless possibilities for delight around each and every corner. And, it is this expectation that often allows us to see the beauty that is otherwise hidden beneath life’s mundanity while allowing us to be open to its unlimited opportunities.