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by M. McClure on Jan 7, 2010 at 9:55 AM
Filed in Negotiation

employment law negotitionMy son has some crazy good negotiating skills.  I'm sure that it doesn't say anything positive about my parenting that he has become such an adept negotiator, nonetheless, it has been instructive. In employment law, I negotiate every day. Business owners negotiate every day. I think we can learn a thing or two from the little guy.

Ethan has basically one negotiating chip: the ability to disrupt the relative peace of our household.  Peace and quiet is important to me, so he's got a pretty solid position.  Here are some of the brilliant ways he plays his one card:

  • Endurance.  The discussion is almost never over with Ethan.  He doesn't leave the negotiating table; he's there for the long haul.  He may not get everything he came for, but endurance is probably his most successful tactic.
  • Knowledge of the facts. Generally, Ethan makes up his facts ("Mom, today is a snow day."  "No, it isn't, son."  "Yes, it is." "No, it isn't."), but he puts them forward with absolute certainty.  Just think how effective he could be if his facts were actually true. 
  • Timing.  Ethan has an uncanny sense for when a potential fit would have the most impact.  Examples are: when we are trying to leave for school, in public, and when everyone is tired. He uses timing to extract concessions.  Which leads to the next point...
  • Know when to go all in. After a reasonable amount of civil discourse, after all potential positions have been explored, and when the timing is right, Ethan is willing to default to his nuclear option: the crying fit.  He doesn't do it often, but when the stakes are high enough and the time is right, he'll go there. I would like to think that this has not been effective for him, but it must have been at some point.  It's the Hail Mary pass, and, I guess, sometimes it works.  Having a nuclear option in your pocket, like "I am willing to make you spend thousands in attorneys' fees and then beat you very badly at trial," is a good idea.  And, you have to be willing to do it. 

Ethan's primary negotiating fault is that on occasion he sets out an unreasonable demand and then refuses to move. (No, you cannot take your Nintendo DS to school.)  Business owners should have more than one position, and they should consider those positions carefully before negotiations begin. Think about what you are most interested in accomplishing and what you can painlessly concede.  Keep the conversation going, know the facts, and know when to go all in. 


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