Negotiation is just like nature, where everything is connected

As a mother to two young children, I am open to acknowledge that bulk of my negotiation practice takes place at home.

Referring to a routine I started about eight months ago in large because of the conditions imposed upon all of us due to COVID-19, I typically start my day of negotiating at home from around 7:30 in the morning with my 3 and 6 year-olds. Around that time, they would have been up and also done with their breakfasts.

To help them cultivate their daily learning habits as well as their literacy and academic capabilities, up next for about 45-minutes before school time is to complete their daily activities such as math, art, reading,  writing. I have to go through my rituals daily, where I:

  • Set out the volume of activities that need to be done;
  • Explain the reasons as well as the benefits to do them;
  • Handle multiple back-and-forth of doing and not doing as well as reminding them the consequences when they decide not to complete the activities designed for them; and
  • Put myself forward to hear phrases like these from my children: “Mummy, you’re bad!” and “Mummy, I don’t like you!”.

In majority of the cases, after many rounds of those repeats each and every day, with some better than others – the activities often get done. On those days when they do them, my children will be enjoying their fun time happily with a “do not disturb” mode  for a period of 30-minutes in the evening. When they have their fun time, I often observe they enjoy it whilst feeling accomplished from the effort they put in.

The story I just shared above, in my view, contains all the gems we need when it comes to the art of negotiation, at home or at work, with children or adults. In my approach of negotiation, I strive for three things:

  1. Alignment with the purpose;
  2. A meaningful outcome; and
  3. Progress.

Underlying all of these is my own recipe I use in negotiations that are principles based, which have been helping me to negotiate effectively, first at home, and then elsewhere. There are four of them:

  1. Be purposeful and clear on the why I am negotiating in the first place;
  2. Be empathetic – never think that the counterpart is like me;
  3. Be adaptive on choice of words, as there is no one size fits all;
  4. Be collaborative whilst not being afraid to disagree and to assert influence. As the author of Never Splits the Difference, Chris Voss reminds us:
    • “Conflict brings out trust, creativity, and resolution”
    • When we have influence on what the counterpart is afraid of losing, it opens the path forward for a collaborative negotiation.

To many of us, COVID-19 has brought a lot of inconvenience to our daily lives, work, business. For me, I am grateful that this has been the opposite in a number of cases. Specifically, interruptions at school means opportunities for me to bring schooling home and to bond with my children as a teacher, as well as parent – two critical and yet difficult roles to be played out by the same person, and therefore, being effective in negotiation is a critical success factor in doing both of these roles well.

My return on investments in the past few months of these daily negotiations with my children are starting to come through recently where:

  • My children are now more proactive to get started with their activities;
  • They have strengthened their own muscles to sit down and focus, with their growing abilities to read and write increasing their self-confidence to do selected activities by themselves; and
  • I think the hippocampus of their brains have by now grown to a certain volume of neurons and synapses to know that if they want to get to their daily rewards, they will need to complete their activities.

This precious experience and the results to-date coming through from these two young beings is a constant reminder to me of what we all should aim for when we negotiate:

  • However hard it can feel in the process of agreeing and disagreeing, leverage the “Purpose” set out in the negotiation as our “North Star” to guide and help stay connected with each other to reach a meaningful outcome for both parties.
  • In that process, look beyond the immediate result of winning or losing. Rather, focus on the bigger picture and the longer-term benefits. Ultimately, it’s the progress over time that matters.

Above all, it is important to acknowledge that an effective negotiation can only take place when it involves more than one person, with the counterpart being open to listen, discuss, agree, and disagree with you.

My view is this, practice building meaningful connections and collaboration with empathy and gratitude, is what we should all have at the heart of negotiation.

Because, to live a purposeful and fulfilled life, together is better.