What children can teach us about successful business negotiations


Source: Jess Zoerb/unsplash.

Playground politics can provide important life lessons and valuable negotiation skills.

Who said children don’t benefit from trading footy cards in the playground?  We all remember a bad footy card trade. 

Just as trading cards can help children to practice small-scale conflict resolution, the ability to connect with others is crucial to being a good negotiator. Negotiating is as much a social skill as it is a business skill.

Learning to interact and negotiate with children in the playground is not dissimilar to the behaviour required in the professional environment.

We are in negotiations every day, a child’s bedtime, a pay rise, buying a house, it’s all a negotiation.

Have you ever wondered why a child’s bedtime is pushed back 10 minutes? Why do buckets of Lego fill the play room or why does your child have every colour of the latest headband fad? 

It’s because children learn how to negotiate at an early age.

The simplest negotiating skills employed by children are often the most effective.

In the playground it’s about problem solving, but in business it can too often end up being about ego.

To make a deal or reach a compromise becomes complicated when people resort to inflammatory language, aggressive behaviour or there’s a lack of trust between parties.

Young children in particular have an ability to resolve an issue without bringing emotional baggage to the transaction, yet in business there’s the risk personalities can hijack discussions.

Children are constantly at odds over a number of things but they learn to address these issues quickly and move on.

Children tend to collaborate more and it’s less about themselves and more about the outcome.

Key principles to consider before your next negotiation

Likeability: Learning to play nicely and fairly with other children at lunchtime are attributes that bode well in the corporate world. Negotiation is a critical business skill often lost on leaders who use their ego to drive decision making. 

Be transparent: When children want something, they ask for it, they’re honest about what they want and they work towards getting it. They’ll compromise in the process but they won’t lose sight of what they set out to get. Make sure it’s clear what you want and the talks are open and honest.

Trust: A successful negotiation often comes down to trust. People prefer to do business with people they know, like and can connect with. When we trust somebody, we are more likely to go out of our way to find creative ways to find agreement, however if trust isn’t there, people will often go out of their way to find a way to disagree.

Cohesive teamwork: The schoolyard is a social environment where collaboration is about the outcome. In the business environment collaboration can leave executives feeling uneasy because they are no longer the sole decision maker, they feel they don’t have the answers or worse, they withhold information to retain power. Being open and listening to the opinions of others can diffuse tension and conflict and achieve a result.

Perseverance: A child doesn’t deem their fall off a bike as failure but an opportunity to re-adjust, set new goals and try again. Patience, perseverance and resilience are critical skills required in negotiations because it’s about the ability to meet adversity, adjust the goal posts and recover from setbacks. 

Empathy: Regardless of whether you are outspoken or an introvert, a people pleaser or assertive, successful negotiating is based on respect, empathy and kindness. You will more likely achieve a successful outcome when there is a genuine connection. Just as students are taught how their actions can impact on their classmates, showing respect and understanding in the professional environment goes a long way to achieving a better outcome where both parties feel like they’ve been heard.


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