Boardroom success is child’s play

22 June 2022 By Julia Ewert
Julia Ewert

The politics of the playground provide valuable lessons in negotiation, writes Julia Ewert.

There are close parallels between playground interactions and negotiations in the professional environment.

Not only are negotiation skills used in business deals, litigation settlements, employment contract negotiations, criminal plea bargaining, or neighbour disputes for example, but these skills can also assist in winning targeted clients and increasing your overall value.

Well-prepared lawyers always have to tell their clients the best- and worst-case scenarios and offer the best alternatives for settling a matter. The right approach to negotiation can’t be overstated.

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We are in negotiations every day; a child’s bedtime, a salary, buying a car, a contract — it’s all a negotiation.

Have you ever wondered why a child’s bedtime is pushed back 10 minutes? It’s because children learn how to negotiate at an early age. The more simplistic negotiating skills employed by children are often the most effective.

In the playground, it’s about problem solving, yet in business, too often, it can end up being about ego. The ability to connect with others is crucial to being a good negotiator, and negotiating is as much a social skill as it is a business skill.

Reaching agreements becomes complicated when people resort to poor language choice, hostile behaviour, or there’s a lack of trust between parties.

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

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Children are constantly at odds over a number of things, but they learn to resolve 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

Ego: Children have the ability to resolve conflict easily and allow their curiosity to take centre stage instead of using their ego. Negotiation is a critical business skill often lost on leaders who use their ego to drive decision making. Avoid confusing yourself and your ego with the issue.

Tell the truth: When children want something, they ask for it; they’re honest about what they want. They have their eye on the prize, they know what they want and 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: Just as children seek out friendships with others they trust and even share playground secrets, people prefer to do business with people they know, like and trust. 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.

Collaborate: The schoolyard is a social environment where collaboration is about the outcome. In the professional 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.

Resilience: A child doesn’t deem their fall off a bike as a failure but an opportunity to readjust, set new goals, and try again. Resilience is a crucial characteristic required in negotiations because it’s the ability to meet adversity, adjust the goal posts, and recover from setbacks.

Empathy: The ability to connect with others is crucial to sales and negotiation. Just as students are taught how their actions can impact 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.

Julia Ewert is a sales strategist and professional negotiator.

Boardroom success is child’s play
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