The Negotiator Magazine

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Everything You Need To Be A Great Negotiator You Learned Before Kindergarten

Charles B. Craver

When I teach negotiation skills to lawyers, business people, and law students, we discuss the different stages of the bargaining process, verbal and nonverbal communication, negotiating techniques, and similar issues. We cover such psychological factors as gain-loss framing, which indicates that persons facing a sure gain and the possibility of a greater gain or no gain tend to be risk averse and take the certain gain, while individuals facing a sure loss and the possibility of a greater loss or no loss tend to be risk takers hoping to avoid any loss. We explore the impact of anchoring which suggests that negotiators should usually demand more or offer less than they hope to achieve, since this approach tends to lower opponent expectations. We examine emotional contagion which demonstrates that people who begin bargaining interactions in positive moods behave more cooperatively, achieve more agreements, and achieve more efficient agreements than those who begin in negative moods. Despite all of these sophisticated theories, however, I continue to be amazed by the degree to which most negotiations involve concepts we all learned during our formative years.

Children learn to be intuitively manipulative negotiators. They are born with basic needs and limited communication skills. They quickly learn to make certain sounds when they want to be fed, changed, or put down for a nap. As their communication skills develop, they become even more manipulative. They intuitively recognize one thing that most adults fail to appreciate - there is no such think as bargaining power, but only the perception of it. If your opponent thinks you possess bargaining power and you know how to use it, you have authority. If your opponent believes that you have no bargaining power, however, you have a problem.

Parents think they possess bargaining power vis--vis their children, because it is their money and their house. How do children overcome this obstacle? They ignore the parental power they are facing and blithely advance their demands! Children are also persistent negotiators. If they don't immediately obtain what they want, they ask again - and again. A recent study found that when parents adamantly oppose requests from their children, the children have to ask nine or ten times before the parents relent. Children also know how to play one parent off against the other, to maximize their bargaining opportunities.

I often watch parents who enter supermarkets with young children. The children almost immediately begin to ask for items the parents have not thought of purchasing. If the children are not successful on aisle one, they try again on aisle three and aisle six. If all else fails, they can throw a tantrum. Most parents panic by this time, and give them what they seek. On rare occasions, parents effectively counteract tantrums by leaving the shopping cart in the aisle and leaving the store with their children. They explain that the kids are not prepared to shop and either drive away or let the children calm down in the parking lot before returning to the store to complete their shopping.

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February 2005