Humans learn to negotiate early in life. Any parent can attest to this! As early as age two, children are offering to eat more vegetables at dinner if it means ice cream for dessert. By the tender of age of three, kids have developed a whole arsenal of negotiation tactics. Their approaches to secure prime toys, dessert or a later bedtime are not just child’s play -- they offer valuable reminders about successful negotiation tactics in any setting.
1. Start by offering support. My wife and I have noticed that before our sons present a request for something outside of their usual routine, they are often especially helpful around the house. They will proactively help out with extra chores, and while we usually can sense an ulterior motive is at play, it still often works in their favor. In business too, it’s easier to say yes or want to work with someone who has just done something nice for you.
2. Time your approach. Kids are masters at timing their approach -- often waiting to ask for something when you are right in the middle of preparing dinner or trying to get their sibling ready for bed. Toddlers have it figured out. Assessing what your target has going on around them and timing your approach so that you’re more likely to receive a “yes” is smart whether you’re at home or in a business setting.
3. Leverage a credible advocate. My youngest son likes to enlist the support of his older brother when negotiating. Having lined up an ally, it’s clear he feels more empowered and confident when his brother is there to back him up. It’s often effective, too, assuming it’s a reasonable request. Similarly, I find it’s helpful to preview ideas and build a group of influential, trusted advocates before approaching a decision maker or potential partner. When presented with an idea or request that a team of people believe is a good idea, it’s harder to say no.
Related: How to Negotiate for What You Want
4. Turn on the charm. Merit is important, of course, but charm and an emotional connection go a long way. Children learn that it’s hard for their parents to say no when they add a charming smile to their request. Human beings are emotional. Positive personal connections matter. In business, having a good relationship outside of the conference room with whom you are negotiating can have a significant impact on how or whether a deal gets done.
5. Talk to a decision maker. One of the most important reminders kids can offer us about negotiation is to make sure you’re talking to a decision maker. Kids know who can say yes to a request and will target that person. (And if one decision maker says no, they’ll often move on to the second decision maker!) It is a waste of time to talk with someone who is not capable of saying yes. When negotiating a deal, small or big, make sure you’re talking to the right person, otherwise there will be no ice cream for dessert.