How to negotiate like a four year old girl

Nadine Jabbour
Project Manager
Lessons learned from my recent formal negotiation training.
November 19, 2018

It’s 4pm on a school day. A little girl is meandering about her dad’s general store and she asks for a chocolate snack and the response she gets is a standard “No”.
“Why?” she asks, and again, Dad says, “because you need to have your dinner first”.

Without hesitation, the girl responds, “If I promise to have my dinner can I just have half a chocolate now? 

“No” he repeats. “Why?” she asks again. “Because you won’t be hungry for dinner and you need your vegetables to grow big and strong”.

The little girl stops and thinks for a second, “Ok Dad, if I wait, and eat extra vegetables with my dinner, then after that can I get a chocolate AND an ice-cream?”

That little girl was me. Expertly negotiating with my Dad and winning almost every time. ;)

I recently attended an ‘Advancing Negotiation Skills’ course, run by Scotwork. The opening question from the facilitator stated: “Think of a four-year-old child, what is the most frequently used word in their limited vocabulary? …Why.” 

His point? That by age four many of us reach the height of our negotiating ability.Because at age four we’re constantly curious, and we simply don’t accept the word no.

In a room where mistakes are relished

As the one female in a room full of men from male dominated industries, I was a little uncomfortable and equally eager for this formal learning opportunity. Being a practical course, I certainly didn’t expect to sit quietly taking notes. We role-played eight case studies in three days, being filmed, prodded and pushed, with footage played back in front of the class to teach us where we could have done better. The facilitators created an illusion of pressure not dissimilar to what we might face every day with a client, colleague or vendor, but in a safe environment where mistakes were relished.  

My key takeaways

Taking the time to understand what the other party values is key to successful negotiation.

I quickly learned that negotiation isn’t about persuading another to your point of view.

It’s not simply about compromise and it’s not about haggling to the best price to get the better of your opponent – that’s a good way to jeopardise the relationship and guarantee one of you will walk away feeling yuck.  

Negotiation is getting to the bottom of what the other party values, and giving it to them, on your terms. My dad wanted me to have a healthy dinner, if I gave that to him, I knew he’d be ok with me having a snack.

Great, I now know how to define good negotiation. So how do you understand what the other party values if you barely know them or they won’t tell you?...


Be curious

Just ask. And listen! So often we’re too afraid to directly ask people what it is they really want. Or too inconsiderate to care. Often, they’re giving us signals and we’re so concerned with what we want or what we should say next that we aren’t even listening.


Extend trust

Why not offer up what you value first? What better way to build trust quickly than to show vulnerability. One of the most unexpected snippets of advice on this course was to share as much information as possible. 9 times out of 10, what you think is confidential or can be used against you or is commercially sensitive, usually isn’t. Don’t hold your cards close to your chest if you want to build a trusted relationship.  


So how does Versent stack up?

This advice particularly resonated with me in context of Versent. Versent has a somewhat unorthodox way of doing ‘sales’, and I love it. Why? It has to be right for the team and our customer. It isn’t just about the dollars, it isn’t just about winning. I’ve seen Versentonians walk away from a sale because it wasn’t right for that customer, or for our team.

Our people thrive on honesty and transparency every day, and that’s how it should be.


What I’ve learnt and how it may help you

A lot of us, me included, aren’t in roles that need formal negotiation skills. Even so, we can apply these skills in any role and in any relationship to get the best outcome for everyone involved. So, whether you’re responding to your 4yr old, trying to get your way with your partner, or collaborating with a colleague: take the time to understand what the other person values, be curious, extend trust, and do not settle for “No”, but instead ask “Why?”

Nadine Jabbour is a Project Manager with Versent. She has spent most of her career delivering projects and working on strategy execution. Outside of Versent, Nadine loves to try new things; you'll rarely find her doing the same thing from one day to the next.

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