We all like to think of ourselves as fairly good negotiators who are constantly getting better. However, it’s time that we take a moment and acknowledge that there will always be someone better than us out there. Someone to whom negotiating skills come as almost a second nature. Whose very survival, arguably, could depend on their ability to not only negotiate well but to end up getting their way most of the time. I can almost hear you asking: who is this fantastic manipulator of men and how can I learn from them? Well good news, you’ve probably already met them: professional negotiators will almost all agree that the best negotiators in the world are two-year-olds.
Why two-year-olds you ask? Well take just a moment and think about it. If a two-year-old makes a request and then does not get his/her way, what will they do? They’ll fall to the floor and start to cry, scream, kick their feet and maybe even hold their breath until they get their way.
If you’ve ever been the target of one of these fits, you know just how powerfully effective they can be. You just want the kid to stop! This is where the negotiating starts. If the parent tries to appease the child by begging, pleading, or even offering them bribes to stop their behavior then the child will have learned an important lesson: throwing a fit works. This means that the next time that the child wants something, he/she will have the fit as one of their known successful negotiating techniques.
If, however, the parent is strong enough to just walk away and let the child wear themselves out with no effect, then once again the child will have learned something: a fit does not work. In this case the parent’s negotiating technique has taught the child something and so the child will adjust their technique next time: they’ll try something else. The next time that the child wants something, perhaps they will hug their parent or say that they love them or something else along those lines in order to see if this achieves a better result.
We can all learn something each time we negotiate and a two-year-old has a great deal to teach us. A child’s ability to try new negotiating techniques, retain those that work and discard those that don’t work, should be showing us the way that we need to be constantly refining our techniques. All too often I encounter people who view negotiating as a “process” to be learned and repeated over and over again in every situation. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
A better way of thinking about negotiating is to view it as a specialized form of communication. When we negotiate we are trying to get something that we want by interacting with someone else who is trying to do the exact same thing. Every negotiation is different and every individual that we negotiate with is different. This means that there IS NO FIXED FORMULA for negotiating. Rather, skilled negotiators have a collection of skills that they can use as they see fit to do so. I guess the best analogy would be to a carpenter. Every piece of wood is different and depending on what the carpenter wants to create out of the wood, he will choose to use any one of a large collection of specialized tools that he has to work with.
Years ago I used to watch the This Old House TV show in which Norm Abrams would do fantastic things with wood as part of a house remodeling job. It took me a long time to realize that not only was Norm a gifted craftsman, but he also had every specialty wood working tool known to man. He would smoothly swap out tools as he transformed a tree stump into a fantastic Adirondack chair. If Norm was a negotiator, we’d be seeing him swap negotiating skills in and out as he searched for the right tools needed to turn a negotiation into a success.
If you’ve been looking for the one negotiating “system” that will allow you to “win” all of your negotiations, it’s time to give it up. Such a system does not exist and any two-year-old can tell you this. However, if you can understand that like a master carpenter, you can collect the right negotiating tools and by choosing the right tools for the right situation, you can create negotiation results that are things of beauty.
Have you ever had to try to negotiate with a two-year-old? How did it turn out – did you give in or did you take a hard line and let them throw a fit? Last time you negotiated with someone, did you detect them trying out different negotiating techniques on you or were they just executing a fixed system? What negotiating skills do you already have and which ones would you like to develop?