Convincing kids to do things: On multiparty negotiation

Convincing multiple children to do something—anything—is a multiparty negotiation. Coming out of the bath, putting on their shoes, going to bed, you name it: it’s a multiparty negotiation (I’m told.)

Given the complexity of such situations, wouldn’t it be nice if negotiation research could help? It would, and it can. Negotiation scholars have surfaced several important principles that can make this and many other quasi-conflicts with multiple people more negotiable. Particularly relevant to parenting:

  1. Set the agenda: In any multiparty setting, research emphasizes the importance of setting the agenda—that is, dictating what will be discussed and when. So if you want your multiple kids to get out of the bath, and they also want to discuss the possibility of a nighttime snack, make sure you dictate the order of the topics. For example: “I can only discuss snacks with dry people.”
  2. Clarify the decision rule: In any multiparty setting, research also emphasizes the importance of setting the right decision rule and conveying it clearly. If it’s you and two small kids, will we decide whether we’re going to bed by majority rule or consensus? Either way, no one will ever sleep. Difficult and cold-hearted as it might seem, parents at least occasionally must remind their aspiring negotiators that the parent gets the final say.
  3. Form an early coalition: Research emphasizes the importance of forming and managing coalitions carefully. With experience, parents typically develop a refined understanding of their potential coalition partners. They know that when they want their two kids to get their shoes on, one will probably comply more readily. If so, then they might consider convincing that kid to act before making the broader appeal, thereby creating a sense of momentum moving in the direction of the front door.
  4. Break unhelpful coalitions: Perhaps you weren’t quick enough to form a stable coalition. Perhaps your two kids have conspired against you to never leave the bathtub, come low or high water. In that case, you might have to break the coalition, often by offering an inducement. “Whoever gets out of the bath first gets the monkey towel!” Just watch the coalitions shift.
  5. Emphasize ties that bind: Lest all this coalition building and breaking threaten to isolate one of the kids, it’s important to frequently reaffirm the broader identity and goals that bind the whole family together. “We all want to have fun at the amusement park tomorrow, Suzie-Q and Billy-Boy. So let’s all work together to get enough sleep.”

None of these strategies is rocket science, and anyone with kids can tell you that none will always work. In combination and with repetition, though, these strategies should start to make the multiparty negotiation of parenting at least a bit more negotiable. Good luck!

 

What, we agree? Compatible issues in a disagreeable world

It sometimes seems that seething disagreements surround us. Crazy passengers punching out flight attendants, angry politicians launching invective, nasty comments following a nice news story about puppies and kittens.

At times like these, it’s easy to forget that we actually agree with each other quite often. In negotiation-speak, we can easily lose sight of the compatible issues—issues on which we completely agree with our counterparts—all around us. To help make life negotiable, let me illustrate through five examples:

  1. We all want to have a good flight/stay/meal. So does the airline/hotel/restaurant. What with the bad service we so often receive, it sometimes seems our interests are completely opposed to the interests of airlines/hotels/restaurants. And it’s true: they all want to save money where they can. More importantly, though, they all want you to come back and/or say nice things to your friends and acquaintances. Our interests are more aligned than unaligned.
  2. We all want to be at a job where we can thrive for the long term. So do our employers. It seems that many employers want to squeeze every ounce of effort from their employees, then spit them out. And some do. More often than not, and in spite of outward appearances, though, many employers would prefer to keep you around for the long-term, if only because it costs so much to replace you (anyone, really).
  3. We all want to minimize the amount of time a contractor spends at our house. So do our contractors. When plumbers dawdle, when electricians take a smoke-break, it seems that they must be padding their paycheck. Right? And maybe some are. But most of the contractors I’ve dealt with are so busy that they’d rather get the job done and move on—if only to make more money, an additional call-out fee often exceeding an additional hour of time.
  4. We all want our kids to be happy. So do our kids. Kids do strange things, some of which seem almost certain to undermine their long-term happiness. In such instances, it’s worth remembering that our kids probably aren’t trying to ruin their own lives. They just don’t understand the consequences or have the benefit of long-term thinking. So arguments that start from the assumption our kids want the same thing we do (and did) will probably work better.
  5. (Most controversially…) We all want as few car repairs as possible. So do our dealers. Does it sometimes seem that your car dealer wants to reconstruct your engine every time you need an oil change? Some dealers undoubtedly propose unnecessary repairs. But many—at least of the manufacturer-owned variety—would probably prefer to do fewer repairs. And the reason resembles the airlines/hotels/restaurants. They can make a lot more money if your first car functions so well it convinces you to buy another from them (or advise your friends to).

These are just a couple of the many common real-world situations when we tend to agree with our counterparts more than we think, if not completely. This list is not intended to cover every airline, employer, contractor, kid, or car dealer—certainly not! Nor is it comprehensive—far from it! It’s merely intended to reiterate that we all actually agree with other once in a while, if not routinely. In a world of deepening polarization, rumbling faultlines, and spiraling incivility, I think it’s a point worth remembering.

What can moms teach us about negotiation?

Today being devoted to mothers, we might consider what our mothers can teach us about negotiation. Everyone’s mom being different, it’s far from an easy task. But I’d venture that many of our moms display a few simple attributes that, should we choose to emulate them, can serve us well at the bargaining table and beyond. In short, I’d like to suggest that emulating the following five features of many of our moms can make life more negotiable:

  1. Patient: Moms endure a never-ending stream of challenges from their kids. But many seem to do so with patient resolve, quietly awaiting the day when we stop dropping food and start using our $^%^*^& plate. As I’ve said before, patience is one of the best negotiators’ least appreciated virtues.
  2. Calm: Even while we drop our spaghetti, then our meatballs, then our milk, many moms remain remarkably calm. Sure, the milk tests their nerves more than the meatballs, and the meatballs more than the spaghetti. Sure, we can even detect a slight edge on the fifth straight night of food-dropping. But somehow, many moms remain strangely serene, even while we push all of their buttons, and then some. Negotiators would do well to do the same, never letting their counterparts’ emotions or maneuvers dictate their own reactions.
  3. Caring: If many moms are just one thing, it must be caring. Many moms’ wellspring of caring for their own kids runs deep, so deep that it usually even endures the teenage years. Put in their position, I’d bet that few of us could do the same. But most of us must do the same when we negotiate, as we pretty much have to show some concern for our teenager of a counterpart to find a mutually-satisfactory solution.
  4. Prepared: Most of us need an app to stay on top of our own schedules and to-do lists. Somehow, many moms are intuitively prepared to manage the schedules and to-dos of an entire family unit with the precision of a military commander. Somehow, they keep the exact time it takes to get to soccer, the exact amount of peanut better our sister prefers, and the exact dosage of children’s Tylenol in their head at the same time. In a word, they’re always prepared—as are the best negotiators.
  5. Firm: Many moms are soft and sweet, but not entirely so. They also know how to draw a bright red line in the sand. Should we dare to cross it? Hell hath no fury. Put simply, many moms have a firm bottom line, and they know what to do if and when we foolishly decide to cross it. Likewise, the best negotiators remain forever cognizant of their bottom line, never failing to exercise plan B if they have to.

In short, many moms can teach us a great deal about negotiation, should we choose to reflect on their positive attributes and link them to our own lives, personal and professional. For this and so many other reasons, happy Mother’s Day.

Negotiation as entrepreneurship

When we hear the word “negotiate,” we often think of ourselves in a “negotiation,” staring down an unscrupulous car dealer or intransigent HR representative. Only infrequently do we treat “negotiate” as what it is: a verb.

That’s a shame because it leads us to forget that negotiating is an action people choose to take. Someone has to decide to negotiate. Remembering that can help us see negotiation for what it really is: an entrepreneurial attempt to achieve our own goals by helping someone else do the same. And seeing negotiation as entrepreneurship can make life more negotiable.

A quick, simple, real-life story to illustrate what I mean: I hate and I mean hate putting away all my clothes after they’re washed. I’m not sure what it is: perhaps it’s the press of other priorities, e.g., the need to publish or perish. Or perhaps just laziness. Regardless, I despise few chores more than folding and hanging. My wife, in turn, hates and I mean hates cleaning the cat box. And her reasoning is a little more sensible: it stinks and spills all over the place, and the cat inevitably decides to resolve his indigestion at just that moment. Loving my boy cat to pieces, however, I don’t really mind it.

Now, this looks nothing like a negotiation—particularly the kind with the car dealer or HR rep. But it clearly presents the opportunity to negotiate—and did in real life. Talking through our respective hates one day, she expressed confusion over mine: “What’s so bad about putting your clothes away?” And herein lay an entrepreneurial opportunity.

No, I wasn’t launching a Silicon Valley startup, seeking VC funding, or even setting up a corner store. But I would like to think I was being quite entrepreneurial when I proposed the simple and obvious trade: How about you put my clothes away if I clean the cat box? It’s not rocket science, and my end of the bargain may even seem silly if you like folding or dislike cat excrement. But it made sense to both of us at the time and made us both better off over the long run.

It’s a silly story, I know, but it has a point: the real purpose of negotiation is not to bend a car dealer into submission. It’s to create value by meeting your own needs and someone else’s at the same time. Since doing that is the same as being entrepreneurial, we’d probably all benefit by starting to see negotiation as entrepreneurship rather than conflict.

Three subtle strategies for correcting others’ screw-ups

Life presents many difficult situations, but few more difficult than the need to highlight someone else’s screw-up—actual or potential. Although identifying another person’s error is often the only way to correct it, many of us are so conflict avoidant as to ignore the issue completely. Unsuccessful car repair? Memo riddled with mistakes? Wrong color iPhone? Oh well…

Why so conflict avoidant? In part, because we think we have to mention the issue explicitly and fear the other side’s angry response. But the savviest among us know many subtle ways to highlight a screw-up without angering anyone at all. Just three such strategies that have made three accompanying situations in my own life more negotiable:

  1. Play dumb: We recently bought a fixer-upper and have had to do substantial fixing-upping, including a replacement of the heating unit. The company that did the replacement did good work, but we noticed one nettlesome issue: the master bedroom got a whole lot warmer than any other bedroom. No one was particularly eager to confront the owner of HVAC company, seeing as we liked him and otherwise appreciated his work. So we played dumb: “This is our first time replacing a heating unit; is it supposed to emit a lot more heat in the master than the other bedrooms?” Anyone could see that it wasn’t. But this innocent question offered an easier way of broaching the topic, and he responded by apologizing and adjusting a simple setting. So playing dumb can help, but only in cases like these when you trust the other party to offer an honest answer.
  2. Ask a related question: I recently took a work trip to Houston followed by a personal visit to my grandparents, who live in a suburb called The Woodlands. Having visited them before, I know the way to The Woodlands. Hence my alarm when the car service seemed to go in the opposite direction, as confirmed by the little blue dot on my iPad. It’s gonna be pretty uncomfortable for a visitor to ask a professional driver if he knows his way around his own town, I thought. So I asked a related question: “How long will it take us to get to The Woodlands from here?” “45 minutes,” he answered, “since this way isn’t as jammed as I-45.” Phew. Asking a related question certainly helped, though it did carry the risk of leaving the main question unanswered. What if he thought I was asking about The Woodlands out of idle curiosity, answering the question even while transporting me to Louisiana?
  3. Ask someone else: We have a favorite gastropub, which we visit as often as little ones allow. And we love the free biscuits dispensed before the meal. The only problem is that the biscuits don’t always arrive, sometimes because the server forgot. And it’s kind of uncomfortable to raise the possibility, particularly when interacting with the same server who’s served us a hundred times. So sometimes, while ordering in the presence of the server and the absence of the biscuits, I turn to my daughters and ask: “Do you want any biscuits today?” The answer, of course, is a resounding yes—and the server generally gets it. But there’s always the possibility that he won’t pay attention, the question being directed to someone else.

Bottom line: life occasionally requires us to address someone else’s goofs, actual or potential. But the prospect of implying that they goofed can petrify us into a state of frozen inaction. But it really doesn’t have to! Life also affords a variety of strategies for conveying our point implicitly. So don’t remain “frozen”—“let it go!”

“It’s not fair!”

Any guesses as to the most popular phrase in the toddler’s vocabulary? That’s right: “It’s not fair.” While we may be tempted to discount these three words as a manifestation of the toddler’s irrational mind, I’m here to suggest that they can actually teach us something important about disputes. In particular, I’d like to suggest that this phrase represents nearly everyone’s reaction in a dispute situation, and recognizing as much can make our own disputes more negotiable.

Any parent has experienced something like the following:

  • Toddler (7 AM): “I want chocolate!”
  • Parent: “No, not for breakfast.”
  • Toddler: “But it’s not fair!”
  • Parent: “Oh, yes it is.”

This is a classic dispute. The toddler made a claim, namely that chocolate was appropriate at 7 AM. And the parent rejected it, namely by saying no. Both sides found their own positions entirely fair.

While this dispute may seem silly or contrived, consider the following analogue: It’s January, and you wish to take your vacation a bit earlier this year than last. So you ask your boss: “Boss, can I take my vacation in February?” “No,” your boss says, “We’re pretty busy that time of year.” A completely different domain, but a very similar situation. You wanted to do something a little earlier than someone else expected, and they simply said no. Again, both sides probably found their own positions entirely fair.

Anytime one party makes a claim and another party rejects that claim, you have the basic outlines of a dispute. And anytime you have the basic outlines of the dispute, both parties think that their position is fair. The fact that we identify with our own vacation claim more than the toddler’s chocolate claim doesn’t change the basic situation: everyone in a dispute considers their own view the very epitome of fairness.

In this light, toddlers can teach us something important: in the context of a dispute, appeals to fairness are not likely to work. However fair your own claim seems, you can rest assured your counterpart sees things just the opposite. So how convinced will they be by the natural and oft-made argument, issued later and in a professional adult manner of course, that this particular decision is not particularly fair? Not very.

In this respect, I have to lodge a slight amendment to the book Getting to Yes. Despite the book’s many positive qualities, which I have often extolled in this blog, it advises the reader to resolve conflicts by focusing on objective standards. But the toddler’s behavior shows us that objectivity is subjective, at least when a negotiation becomes a dispute. Since everyone finds their own views the epitome of fairness, trying to be objective is unlikely to get you any closer to a resolution.

So what can you do? Well, you can probably turn to another insight from Getting to Yes: Focusing on underlying interests. The toddler wanted chocolate at 7 AM, but why? Perhaps they’re just hungry for something a little sweeter than the normal dose of plain oatmeal, in which case an apple may do? Your boss said no to the February vacation, but why? Are they concerned that you won’t finish the big report, which you’ve actually already drafted?

Bottom line: “It’s not fair” is everyone’s reaction to a dispute, not just the irrational toddler’s. And however professional and adult-like you put it, it’s not going to convince your counterpart. So the next time you find yourself in a dispute, resist the toddler’s temptation to highlight the unfairness of the situation and instead focus on unearthing whichever of your counterpart’s interests led them to reject your claim in the first place. It’s only by transcending the tendencies of a toddler—surprisingly hard for all of us in a dispute—that we can hope to resolve the disputes and achieve the interests in our own lives.

Stop wasting food! Kids and contingency contracts

The world sometimes seems populated with two types of children: those who refuse to eat anything you put in front of them, and those who want to eat everything in the fridge—or at least say so. Previous posts have considered the former type, but I haven’t yet considered the latter. In the interest of getting 2017 off on a negotiable foot, I thought I’d consider the overeager eater now.

Consider the following, common pattern—not that I’ve experienced it recently or repeatedly. A young child, say four going on five, is offered an array of dinner options. She responds by saying: “I want pizza, apples, and a hotdog.” Now, the child speaks with such confidence that you can see she’s certain she will consume all of these foods. But you know—based on many or even innumerable prior experiences—that she will not. She’ll get halfway through the apples, freshly heated hotdog steaming on her plate, and say, “I’m full.”

Faced with this situation, the common impulse is to argue. “You won’t eat all that, little Petunia.” To which little Petunia will surely retort: “Yes I will!” And thus begins a pattern of disagreement and dissension that will carry all the way through dinner, spoiling everyone’s meal.

Luckily, negotiation research offers a better way: the contingency contract. In plain English, contingency contracts are bets about future events—agreements to be settled when the fickle hand of fate eventually casts its die. Negotiators use them when they disagree about an uncertain future event—next quarter’s sales figures, perhaps, or the performance of a particular piece of technology being purchased.

But can’t you, the frustrated parent, also use a contingency contract to deal with little Petunia’s obstinate insistence on the three dishes? Can’t you say something like: “Little Petunia dearest, I’ll heat up the pizza and cut up the apples for you, as requested. And I’ll take the hotdogs out of the fridge and place them right here next to the microwave. If I see you gobble up the pizza and apples and hear that you’re still hungry, why, then I’ll happily heat the dogs. It’ll take just a minute. But if you start feeling full sometime before the dogs, then I’ll return them to the fridge for future consumption.”

Voila! Based on Petunia’s sheer certainty that she will eat all three items, she should be more than happy to oblige, sure as she is that this solution will result in her eating the coveted hotdogs. And, given your comparable certainty that the apples will fully satiate her, you should be more than happy with this solution too, sure as you are that the dogs will go right back in the fridge, unspoiled and unwasted. That’s the great part about contingency contracts: both sides think they’ll get exactly what they want.

Of course, they won’t: the fickle hand of fate will cast the die. Petunia will either have room for the dogs or she won’t, and she’ll get what she initially wanted or you will. So one of you will eventually have to admit you were wrong. Seeing as the consequences of that admission are either a comfortably settled stomach or a fully satiated child, though, neither of you should be particularly unhappy with that admission. And both of you should be happy that you avoided pre-dinner warfare.

In short, contingency contracts offer useful end-runs around debates about the future. Faced with differing predictions, don’t waste time and energy arguing—no one ever wins. Instead, let the fickle hand of fate cast a die, then agree to settle up later.

Have you ever used a contingency contract, with a child or otherwise?

 

False anchors II: Don’t get sunk by your teenager

My latest post discussed the topic of false anchors: large numbers issued by retailers for the sheer purpose of anchoring the consumer, then creating an immediate contrast with the “sales” price. “Our amazing TV usually sells for $3000 but—today only—get it for an unbelievable $1800!” The purpose of the post was to alert unsuspecting buyers to the possibility of a psychological trap.

Well, an astute reader offered another example well worth relating, in the spirit of making life negotiable. She actually mentioned the idea of false anchors to a bunch of high schoolers, who recognized the tactic like the back of their hand. Indeed, they immediately offered an analog from their own lives. Whenever they have some bad news to relate to their parents—a D on their math exam, perhaps—they admitted they often say something like this: “Mom, don’t worry: I’m not pregnant, and I haven’t been arrested. I do have to tell you something, though: I just got a D on my math exam.”

What a perfect extension of false anchors! Teenagers, like retailers, are essentially anchoring the listener—in this case, their unsuspecting parents—on some really bad news. And shortly thereafter, they’re bringing up the real news, which is bad but not REALLY bad. In the context of the really bad news, the bad news doesn’t seem so bad at all.

Using this example to make life negotiable depends on whether you’re the teenager or the parents. If you’re the teenager, it undoubtedly works—once. It’s a good way to deliver some bad news and make it seem slightly less bad. Otherwise, why would your peers use it so often? But that’s not to say it’s ethical, preying as you are on your parents’ psychological biases. Nor that it will work more often than once. Your parents, having at least half a brain, will probably cut you some slack the first time but call you out the second time, not necessarily for the bad grade but for the well-worn use of a sketchy tactic.

Now if you’re the parents, making life negotiable means recognizing this tactic the first time. I can only hope that this post helps you to do so. And when you do, your response should resemble the consumer’s response to the amazing TV deal. Just as the consumer must ignore the first price and compare the second against competitors, you the parent must force yourself to ignore the anchor—in this case, the impregnation or incarceration—and focus on the real point—the D. Then evaluate that D against whatever standard you usually use to evaluate grades, not the prospect of grandkids or bail bonds. And, while calling Best Buy to tell them you spotted their false anchor won’t get you very far, telling your kid you spotted their tactic will probably go a ways toward nipping it in the bud in the future.

Have you ever dropped a false anchor as a teenager or detected one as a parent?

Let them choose! Idiosyncratic preferences at home or at work

Over the course of many dinnertimes, many parents notice a pattern in their young children’s preferences. Shortly after sitting down at the table, and whatever the color of the child’s plate (fork, placemat, cup), the kid decides it’s the wrong color. Pink plate? Oops, they wanted the green one. Green plate? Guess tonight was a pink night. And dare the parents resist the demand to switch plates (forks, placemats, cups)—that demand meaning the need to delay everyone’s meal and wash another dish? Let’s just say it’s not pretty.

Notice such a pattern often enough, and you start to devise a countervailing strategy: Let the child pick their own plate before dinner even starts! That way, they can never complain that you, the parents, picked the wrong one.

I think this is more than an idiosyncratic dinnertime pattern. It’s an example of a common strategy that can help make many corners of life more negotiable—at home, but also in the workplace.

At home or at work, we often interact with people who care passionately about a particular issue. We know their pet issue, and we know they’ll throw a stink if it doesn’t go their way. At home, it’s the plate, but at work, it might be the wording of a particular section in the report or the font size of their name on the cover.

Whether it’s the plate color or the font size, we can’t understand for the life of us why they care. Is a pink plate going to poison the food? Is a 14-point font going to produce the long-awaited promotion? Facing this situation, we can choose to react in at least four ways.

  1. Ask them why they care
  2. Wait and see whether the issue comes up, then negotiate over it
  3. Wait and see whether the issue comes up, then let them take charge
  4. Proactively let them choose beforehand

At home or at work, most of us have probably learned to avoid the first strategy, which tends to elicit about the same reaction from small children and coworkers. And most of us probably avoid the second, given the incredible unimportance of the issue. I’d venture that most of us choose the third, letting them choose their own plate or font if and when it becomes an issue—whatever.

I’d like to suggest that option #4 can make life more negotiable. By proactively giving somebody a choice about something they care passionately about, and doing so before the issue ever comes up for discussion, you’ve signaled that you understand and care about their input, and you’ve already helped them achieve their most important objective. In a word, you’ve now earned their trust and support for the duration of the upcoming discussion.

Sounds silly, and to you, it is. But to them, it’s not. For whatever unknown and unknowable reason, they really cared about the plate color or font size, and you gave them just what they wanted. Effectively, you let them make a choice in order to avoid a future negotiation or conflict. In so doing, you’ve not only saved the time associated with the negotiation or conflict; you’ve also created an ally, albeit one with very strange preferences.

The bottom line? If you know somebody cares a great deal about a relatively unimportant issue, it can often help to let them decide that issue before it ever comes up. Have you ever used this strategy at home or at work?

 

To each their own: Technological solutions to negotiation

Last weekend, my daughter and I went to Home Depot. As a means of making the errand slightly more interesting, I let her bring her LeapPad – basically a miniature iPad for learning. During the drive, she was playing her LeapPad, and I was listening to my music. Apparently the music was interfering with the LeapPad’s lovely sound effects, however, as she pointedly told me to cut the tunes.

Ha! I thought. Here’s a solution that will make life negotiable. I’ll put the music entirely in front and on the driver’s side, allowing me to enjoy my music Leap-free. And she, in the back seat on the passenger side, can enjoy her LeapPad music-free.

Then ha! I thought. What a perfect topic for a blog post, as technologies like these provide a wonderful way of achieving everyone’s goals concurrently. And technologies like these abound: Different temperatures for different sides of the car, individual lights for individual seats on planes, separate TVs for each machine at the gym. Technologies like these offer a metaphor for success in many negotiations, since solutions that meet multiple parties’ most important goals at the same time are good solutions.

At the same time, the music solution led me to wonder whether the effects of these technologies and the solutions they enable are uniformly positive. Yes, my daughter got what she wanted, and yes, so did I. But we both got what we wanted by essentially ignoring the others’ needs. Is that really the best kind of solution that two people—particularly two family members—could reach to a problem? Perhaps not. What if I had asked her to tell me more about her game and why the sounds matter? What if we had agreed to listen to her Leap Pad on the way to Home Depot, and my music on the way home? Or agreed to play her LeapPad games without their lovely music? Or agreed that her learning was more important than my entertainment? Or decided on an entirely different solution, like talking to each other on the way to Home Depot? Perhaps one or more of those solutions would’ve not only met our needs but also helped us to understand each other better at the same time.

So what’s the point? The learning, for me, is that technologies like the ones in our car can be incredibly powerful for helping multiple parties meet their needs, but that meeting needs is not the sum total of a successful negotiation. A successful negotiation not only meets the parties’ needs but also leads the parties to a greater understanding, thus bringing them closer together and more likely to thrive in their future negotiations. So next time, I’m going to resist the pull of the radio settings, and try a different approach instead—one that enables me to better understand my daughter’s needs at the same time. You see, not even negotiation professors profess to know all the answers. But we do profess that all of life is a negotiation, meaning that opportunities to learn about negotiation and make life negotiable are all around us.

Capturing the attention of kids and executives alike

Anyone who works for an organization must at least occasionally negotiate with the people above them in the org chart. And anyone who does that knows that capturing and maintaining an executive’s attention is essential to negotiation success. What you might not know is that interactions with kids can highlight some important lessons about interactions with executives—lessons about attention that can make life more negotiable.

Consider the following examples about kids and attention, and whether they could better your organizational life:

  • Attracting attention: Perhaps you need to get a kid dressed for school, but they need to play with a million toys first. To accomplish your goal, you have to attract their attention. Likewise, at work, you might need to attract the attention of an executive in order to get your plans approved. With kids, mentioning what’s in it for them upfront (time to play before the bus?) can often help. How about executives?
  • Maintaining attention: You might need your kid to clean up the remnants of 23 intermingled puzzles, but the kid, having started the task, might discover the need to first assemble 22 of them. To accomplish your goal, you have to maintain their attention. Likewise, at work, you may have gotten a meeting scheduled with an executive, only to find the meeting punctuated by 14,000 emails and phone calls. Persistent repetition seems to be the only method with kids. Executives?
  • Directing attention: You might need your kid to focus on the fun part of the doctor’s appointment (the post-visit sticker) rather than the less fun part (the shot). Similarly, you might want an executive to focus on the more exciting parts of your proposal. While you can’t ignore either the shot or the duller parts of the proposal in good faith, you can order your statements in a way that generates excitement before trepidation or boredom. It works at least occasionally with kids. Executives?
  • Breaking attention: You might need a kid to pay less attention to a particular scene in a movie. What was that thing rated again? Similarly, at work, you might need an executive to stop pursuing a line of reasoning that you know to be wrong. Here are a variety of tips that may work with kids and executives alike.
  • Not calling attention in the first place: You might need to avoid talking about a social event that you know your kid would enjoy, but that you also know your kid’s schedule won’t allow them to attend. Likewise, at work, you might want to avoid a discussion of a report that you plan to start soon but just haven’t had the time to start yet. Initiating a discussion yourself and directing it down the right path can help at home. At work?

The bottom line is that attention is a great asset in negotiations (and in organizations generally). If we have a kid’s or executive’s attention, and it’s directed where we want it, we stand a better chance of achieving our goals. If we don’t have their attention or it’s focused elsewhere, our goals remain a distant dream.

How do you capture and maintain the attention of the people around you?

The power of false dilemmas

Whether we use the term or not, most of us know the concept of false dilemmas. Should we carpet bomb ISIS or take zero action? These are obviously not the only options. Most of us know that—and thus know better than to choose between them, lest the questioner control our thinking.

And yet, there are reasons that people pose false dilemmas, some more ethical than others. So I submit that we should at least consider some situations where it might help to pose them ourselves. Used ethically and appropriately, false dilemmas can help make some of our most difficult personal and professional situations more negotiable.

Which ones? Consider the following three:

  1. When a decision-maker won’t focus. How many decisions don’t get made simply because the decision-maker gets distracted? I’m certainly talking about kids, who can’t be bothered to choose a shirt before building a spaceship out of all the couch cushions. But I’m also talking about executives, who have so many important decisions to make that many don’t get made at all. Sometimes posing a false dilemma—the blue shirt or the red shirt, the quark strategy or the lepton strategy—can simplify the decision just enough to attract their attention.
  2. When a decision-maker will focus but won’t decide. Sometimes the problem is not attention but indecision. The decision-maker is focused but still can’t decide: how to choose among the 342 shirts in the closet? Or the 50 states where we might pilot our leptons? Sometimes a false dilemma can cut through the indecision, convincing them to act instead of worrying about the risks of a failed decision. Having done research indicating that New York or California are the best places to pilot the leptons, for example, you might tell the decision-maker as much and ask for a preference.
  3. When any other options are unacceptable. Sometimes you feel so strongly about a decision that any other options just won’t work. Little Charlie, do you want to go to a private university or a public university after high school? Though the dilemma may seem false to them, set as they are on working at McDonalds, it’s not false at all to you. In that case, posing the choice as a dilemma can help to persuade them.

So false dilemmas can in fact be useful. But the word “false” should immediately call our attention to their ethical implications (even today, the Monday after the spring time change, when many people are so sleepy as to worry less about moral issues). By suggesting that two choices represent the entire decision set, we are inevitably attempting to control their decision. And this is probably the most popular reason for posing false dilemmas: to attain self-interested objectives by curtailing another person’s autonomy. Just my opinion, but that motivation seems ethically suspect.

Indeed, false dilemmas are probably only justifiable when the costs to the decider are trivial (it doesn’t really matter which shirt they wear) or the benefits to the decider are substantial (you know that New York and California are the best pilot sites; you just need to get approval).

An ethically-fraught strategy, then, but one to consider in the face of the difficult dilemmas that surround us—even or especially on “sleepy Monday.”

Your nontransitive preferences are driving me crazy!

One of the great frustrations of daily life, not to mention neoclassical economics, is nontransitive preferences. Huh? In English, transitive preferences would mean that if B is better than A, and if C is better than B, then C must be better than A. But in daily life—when dealing with children or coworkers, for example—we often encounter people with nontransitive preferences: those who make these comparisons, then defiantly defend A.

In these frustrating situations, we have a choice. We can either become neoclassical economists and assume that these people and their silly preferences don’t exist. Poof! There go our kids. Or we can acknowledge their existence and figure out how to deal with them. Although the former may be better for economic analysis, I believe the latter will make life more negotiable.

Parents, how often have you had a conversation like this? “Billy, do you want to go to the pool or the park?” “The pool!” “Ok, or we could go to the beach?” “Yeah, the beach!” Then, halfway to the beach, “Can we go the park?”

Non-transitive preferences.

At work, how often have you heard something like this? “Our widget project is much more promising than our lepton project. But our quark project is much more promising than our widget project.” Then, in a memo two weeks later, we’re going with the lepton project!

Non-transitive preferences.

Does this mean that people are irrational? From my perspective, that’s not a very helpful question. More helpful is to ask why it happens, which also suggests what you can do. Here are five common reasons for non-transitivity, along with some suggestions about how to respond:

  1. They are confused: Sometimes their non-transitive preferences simply reflect their confusion. Perhaps they didn’t understand which playground you meant, or got lost somewhere else on the logic train. In this case, it might help to review all of the options before deciding (or deciding again) and/or ask them to make one decision between all three options.
  2. They are trying to confuse you: Sometimes, they understand their own preferences perfectly well but think they can lose you along the logic train. Perhaps they were trying to pacify you in the meeting but thought you’d forget their statements by the time the memo came out. In this case, you may want to document everything carefully as the conversation unfolds.
  3. You are confused: If we’re accusing others of confusion or malevolence, it’s only fair to admit that we can sometimes get confused too. Maybe Billy wanted to go to the park all along, but we were distracted by an interesting blog post on non-transitive preferences when he originally expressed that preference. In this case, you may want to repeat the process.
  4. They are conflicted or their preferences are changing: Non-transitive preferences don’t have to reflect confusion or malevolence; they could also reflect shifting preferences. Maybe the quark project was our priority during the meeting, but then new information on the market for leptons came to light. In this case, all you can do is roll with the punches.
  5. The options are incomparable: Similarly, sometimes the options are apples and oranges (and lemons). They are incomparable, so any comparisons between them are inherently unstable. Maybe going to the park is such a different experience than going to the beach that Billy’s opinion is bound to change depending on what he’s thinking at the moment. In that case, you and Billy should probably consider the independent merits of each option rather than comparing them to each other.

Non-transitive preferences can be infuriating—to parents, in organizations, and for economists. But, by acknowledging their existence and developing a plan to deal with them, we can make life at least a little more negotiable—if not a little more neoclassical.

When to ask why

A past post discussed the power of why, suggesting that a well-placed “why?” can surface a wealth of information from the people who disagree with us—toddlers and workmates alike. Like almost everything in life, however, the power of why has limits. Why? To find out, let’s consider an age group somewhere between toddlers and colleagues—teenagers.

If teenagers do anything consistently, it’s to ask their parents for money. And since they want the money more than they want to explain the reason, these requests can often raise hackles. In such situations, a well-placed why can make life negotiable, whereas an ill-timed why can make life miserable.

To see what I mean, imagine that your independently-minded teenager Buck approaches you on a Saturday afternoon. Hopeful that he plans to acknowledge your existence, you smile at him cheerfully and say, “Hey Buck, how are you?”, to which he curtly replies: “Can I have some money?”

You need to know where he’s coming from. Good time to ask why? Yes. When you’re trying to understand a person’s basic motivations, whys are essential for doing so. So feel free to why-away. “To go to the movies,” Buck answers, adding that, “I need 35 bucks.”

Now, even boatload of sweets would not bring the total to $35, so you know this number is inflated. You need to bring it down. Good time to ask why? Probably not. Think about what would happen if you did. Would he stammer and offer the complete lack of an explanation? Or would he be prepared to offer a convoluted and esoteric chain of reasoning that somehow justified his outrageous request? Probably the latter. And think about what would happen then. Having anchored you on his unreasonable request, then explained it in a way that drives the anchor deeper into your sand, would he now reduce his number? No, you’d be giving him something much closer to $35 than whatever it really costs.

“But don’t I need to need to understand his calculations?” you’re thinking. “And don’t I have to ask ‘why’ to do that?” Well, yes, but not yet. Assuming you’re also interested in parting with a reasonable amount of money, I’d suggest taking this opportunity to make an aggressive counteroffer yourself. “How much does a movie cost these days, Buck? Like $10 with the popcorn, right?” Now, what is Buck likely to do? Thrown off by your gambit, he’s likely to make some concessions. First, he might ask for $30, then (when offered $10 again), $25.

But suppose he got stuck at $25—was completely unwilling to budge. You’re now staring at a huge gap between your $10 and his rigid $25. Good time to ask why? Yes. When your counterpart has already conceded and is now stuck, it’s a good idea to ask why again—now to understand the source of the rigidity. So suppose you asked “Why 25?” Maybe you asked it again, and asked it a couple different ways. “Because I have a date.” he finally muttered, embarrassed.

Voila! It all makes sense. You now know where he’s going (from why #1) and with whom (why #3); any parent of any teenager knows how essential this information can be. But you’re also giving him a realistic amount to do so (by avoiding why #2). And seeing your Buck in the early stages of young love, you’re more than happy to do so.

Bottom line: It’s good to ask why at the beginning, if you’re trying to understand their motivations. It’s good to ask why at the end, if you’re trying avert an impasse. It’s not so good to ask why in the middle, right after you receive a first offer that obviously needs to come down.

How have your whys helped or hurt in the past?

The power of distraction: Another lesson intransigent toddlers can teach us about intransigent colleagues

Last week’s post discussed an important work lesson we can learn from toddlers: the power of why. Briefly, we often learn a lot by asking “why” of those who oppose us.

This week, I’ll discuss another critical work lesson from toddlers: the power of distraction. Briefly, we often have to deal with colleagues who don’t directly oppose us but aren’t exactly on our wavelength either. In these situations, distraction is essential for making life negotiable.

A common toddler scenario (other parents have told me) is the inexplicable and unexpected meltdown. Suzy is happily playing with a toy, asks to take it outside or something else you reject, then responds to your rejection with (Chernobyl x Fukushima). Immediate diffusion of the situation, parents agree, is all but impossible. Your options are to ignore her until her reactor cools or try to cool her reactor by distracting her with something more interesting. “What do you want for dessert tonight, Suzy?”

What does Suzy have to do with work? When you’re trying to convince a work colleague of something, I would argue that distraction is often essential there too. Consider the following five reasons that you might need to distract a colleague:

  1. Inexplicable and unexpected meltdown: Suzy isn’t the only one. Though hopefully more common among toddlers, meltdowns have been known to make an occasional cameo in the workplace. When you need the support of someone having issues, you need to distract them from their issues before the discussion can even begin.
  2. Talking about something irrelevant: More often, colleagues are calm but completely off-topic. Now it might be worthwhile asking why they’re off-topic, just in case there’s a method to their madness. But if there isn’t, you need to distract them from their tangent.
  3. Talking about something unimportant: Quite often, colleagues are somewhat on-topic but focusing a trivial aspect of the issue. If a “why” still doesn’t help, you need to distract them from their trees to refocus them on the forest.
  4. Just talking: Sometimes colleagues just won’t…eh hem, be quiet. You need to distract them from their monologue just to get a word in.
  5. Not talking: Sometimes colleagues are day-dreaming or otherwise unusually silent. You need to distract them from their reverie so you can understand their reactions.

It would be nice if you could just ask what them they want for dessert tonight. Sadly, that works better on Suzy than an adult. Instead, I’d suggest trying one or more of these approaches:

  1. Take a break: If they need to cool their nerves (#1) or vocal cords (#4) – or if they are way off-topic (#2) – develop the sudden need to visit the bathroom. Much like the ratification strategy, a well-executed break followed by a proactive attempt to restart the conversation can often refocus it.
  2. Synthesize and suggest: If they are somewhat on-topic (#3), summarize their thoughts in a way that explicitly connects them to your thoughts. Even if the connection is shaky, hearing you synthesize signals you’re listening, and hearing your suggestion gives them an easy way to change course. “It sounds like you’re really concerned about sales in Detroit, Steve. I understand that concern, but may I suggest that we think about Detroit in the context of our national sales trends?”
  3. Open-ended question: If they are just silent (#5), enroll them in the conversation by asking them an open-ended question that necessarily requires more than a one-word answer. Not “Is something bothering you, Steve?” but “What are your thoughts on our national sales trends, Steve?”

These techniques are not rocket-science nor surefire. But I hope they provide a framework for working with coworkers who are meandering in and out of your wavelength. Have you ever felt the need to distract a coworker?

The power of why: What intransigent toddlers can teach us about intransigent colleagues

Our organizational colleagues and toddlers often have one thing in common: they seem opposed to whatever we support. Whether they “won’t back that idea” or “won’t eat that macaroni,” their intransigence is one in the same.

By learning to deal with stubborn toddlers, then, we can also learn to deal with stubborn colleagues. In a word, toddlers can help make our work lives negotiable.

Perhaps the most important thing we can learn from toddlers is the power of three words: “why” and “why not”. Now, some toddlers say these words almost as often as they inhale, but that’s not where I’m going. Here’s where I’m going: A common pattern among toddlers (though certainly none that I know) is to eat part of their macaroni, then refuse to eat the rest. A common response from parents is frustration, followed by an escalating battle of wills. A better response from parents are the deceptively simple questions: “why?” or “why not?” A small assortment of the real responses that I would’ve really heard, had I really known such a toddler:

  • I’m not hungry
  • It’s yucky
  • I have to go potty
  • I’m having trouble balancing the macaroni on my fork
  • Look what I can do with these blocks, daddy!

Now, these responses and the questions that precipitated them are critical, as they each pave the way for a different integrative solution that should still involve the macaroni:

  • I’m not hungry (Possible solution: Slow down the meal, try again later, or mention the implications of satiation for dessert)
  • It’s yucky (Possible solution: Mix in the chunks of cheese that she doesn’t like)
  • I have to go potty (Possible solution: Excuse her from the table, then try again)
  • I’m having trouble balancing the macaroni on my fork (Possible solution: Help and/or teach her to balance it)
  • Look what I can do with these blocks, daddy! (Possible solution: Take away the blocks and reiterate the need to focus)

Of course, none of these solutions is surefire, but all of them are better than an escalating battle of wills. But now let’s tie the toddler’s behavior back to the corporate world. Suppose you were proposing an organizational change to your colleagues; here are some corporate analogs of the toddler’s responses, along with some possible solutions from you:

  • I’m not hungry = My appetite for change is waning; these changes are coming too fast (Possible solution: Slow down)
  • It’s yucky = I just found something I didn’t like in your proposal (Possible solution: Probe that issue deeply)
  • I have to go potty = I’m distracted because of other priorities right now (Possible solution: Approach them later)
  • I’m having trouble balancing the macaroni on my fork = I’m having trouble understanding how this will work (Possible solution: Walk them through the details, perhaps in a separate meeting)
  • Look what I can do with these blocks, daddy! = I’m trying to distract or confuse you in hopes that you don’t succeed (Possible solution: Set the meeting agenda and ensure that everyone publicly agrees to it in advance)

Both the analogues and possible solutions are just examples. But I think you can see that the toddler’s behavior is surprisingly reminiscent of your colleagues’ behavior. So the three little words of “why” and “why not” can often prove useful at the boardroom table in addition to the dinner table.

Have you ever asked why (of an intransigent toddler or colleague) and been surprised at the response?

The key to a stress-free Thanksgiving: Celebrating our differences

My last post suggested that we’re often so concerned about (cultural) differences that we fail to negotiate decisively. In a word, it highlighted a hidden cost of an excess focus on diversity. This week, I think it’s appropriate to sing the praises of diversity (of a different kind, for a different reason): It is differences—not similarities—that make deals possible. In a word, diversity of interests makes life negotiable.

I discuss this now because few settings make differences more apparent than the Thanksgiving gathering of far-flung family members. Our normal equilibrium gives way to Cousin Jack (who would love to spend Thanksgiving watching nine hours of football), Aunt Jill (who prefers to spend those same hours cooking, eating, and visiting), and Sister Sally (whose just wants to get a head start on Black Friday). And they all descend at the same time! Rarely do differences become more apparent.

A common reaction—daresay our normal reaction—is to dread such differences before they arise and paper over them or fight over them once they do. “Jack, Thanksgiving is not about TV!”, Jill yells from the kitchen. “Jill, who in their right mind spends nine hours standing around a kitchen?”, Jack retorts. Sound familiar?

But these differences are not the bane they sometimes seem. Indeed, they’re actually one more thing to be thankful for this holiday. To see why, imagine that the parties had no differences whatsoever with respect to their preferred activities. Suppose that everyone wanted to spend all day watching the one TV in the house: Jack the football, Jill the early onset holiday movies, and Sally the home shopping network. Well then, we’d have a REAL problem: we’d have a serious fight about which channel to watch.

Thankfully this Thanksgiving, you don’t have that problem. While Jack veg-es out, Jill can happily cook and Sally happily shop. And if spending your time apart is not your cup of tea, well, you can probably even find an integrative solution: Jill can time her turkey for Jack’s halftime, and Sally’s shops (we hope) won’t be open then. In short, we can all enjoy our preferred Thanksgiving activities, while still finding a way to give thanks together.

The bottom line is this: On Thanksgiving and in any other potentially contentious negotiation, we often wish and hope for our differences to go away. In fact, we should thank our lucky stars that we disagree because it’s only through differences that potential solutions emerge. In short, it’s differences that ultimately make life negotiable. Just one more thing to be thankful for this year.

How do you manage the differing priorities of family members?

Reactive devaluation and reverse psychology: Or, how to get the house clean

Hurricane Joaquin may have missed the East Coast. But if you have a small kid, then Hurricane [small kid’s name] probably hits often.

Keeping a house clean with a small child around seems impossible. And without the child’s assistance, it probably is. But a thoughtful approach can elicit said assistance and make even this mess negotiable!

When you ask a small child to clean up the egregious mess they just made—say by emptying a toy chest then propelling its contents across three counties—they often say “no.” Now there are many potential reasons for the “no,” along with many potentially appropriate responses. But a common reason is reactive devaluation: automatically discounting what somebody says because of the particular somebody who said it. Small kids, like business negotiators (and teenagers), often automatically disagree with a request just because it came from a perceived “opponent”—in this case, a parent.

Well, at least for small kids, knowledge of the reason paves the way for a potentially appropriate response: reverse psychology. The kid is doing the opposite of what you want because of who you are. You can’t change who you are, but you certainly can say the opposite of what you want, at which point the kid will likely do the opposite of the opposite of what you want—that is, what you want. “Billy,” you could say, “please—whatever you do—DON’T pick up all of those toys. Get yourself dressed, take a nap, wash your face, but DEFINITELY don’t walk around picking up your toys.” Notice how you’re contrasting the toy pickup with three other activities that Billy doesn’t much like but you do, just in case he decides to drop the reactive devaluation.

I’ve seen reverse psychology in action—it works, particularly with feisty / smart / willful kids (not that I know any of those). But it has some clear drawbacks that you should know before making it your go-to. First, it fundamentally involves deception—you want Billy to clean up his toys, and you’re telling him you don’t. Is lying to achieving your personal goals the kind of strategy you want Billy to learn (remembering that he will eventually become a teenager)? Probably not. In addition, on a more practical level, it sends the message that you don’t give a rat’s behind about the cleanliness of the house, which you most certainly do, and which Billy may eventually take to heart. Finally, Billy will eventually figure it out. In other words, you may get a few messes cleaned up through reverse psychology, but Billy will eventually learn your tricks and consequently ignore your requests not to do things. That will surely catch up with you and Billy eventually.

This is all to say that reverse psychology is an effective antidote to small kids’ reactive devaluation. But it’s a strategy to use mindfully and sparingly, in moments of true desperation.

What do you think of reverse psychology – do the benefits outweigh the costs?

Household harmony: Carving up the chores without conflict

How often have you stopped and thought: “Gee, I wish I was doing more housework”? Whether it’s washing the dishes, vacuuming the carpet, or cleaning the cat box, few of us want more housework. As a result, those of us who live with others are likely to eventually experience chore-based conflict.

Dividing up the chores can be contentious! But it’s negotiable.

To negotiate this particular morass, it helps to understand negative bargaining zones and how to deal with them. This post will introduce that topic and propose one strategic response; future posts will offer many more.

So imagine a simple example: you’re fighting with a dissatisfied spouse about washing the dishes. You wash the dishes on Saturday and Sunday, which seems appropriate since your high-stress (and high-paying) job occupies your time Monday through Friday. Your spouse does the dishes the rest of the week, which might seem unfair except that he (to alternate genders in my posts) works a low-stress, part-time job that leaves lots of time for scrubbing.

“Thomasina,” he says, “you’re not pulling your weight around the sink.” “Thomas,” you say, “you’re making 1/100th of my salary.” And thus it’s come to a head.

In a pinch, you’re also willing to wash dishes on Friday (for a total of three days per week). But you’d really rather sip a margarita that night, and you think the idea of Thursday dishes is outrageous. Unfortunately, Thomas doesn’t see it that way: “Every time you come home late, you eat nachos and sip margaritas! Do you know how many dishes that creates, and how hard I have to scrub that nacho cheese? It’s only right for you to do dishes at least Thursday through Sunday!”

This is a negative bargaining zone: the least that one party would accept (four days of dishes) is more than the most that the other party is willing to offer (your three days). And, if you and Thomas just try to persuade each other on the dishes, this is the start of a conflict.

But do you really have to do that? Aren’t there other chores in need of doing? In particular, isn’t Thomas always vacuuming up the cat hair on Saturday, complaining all the while about missing college football? And wait, doesn’t your schedule free up considerably on the weekend? What if you offered to take over the Saturday vacuuming while maintaining your current level of dishwashing?

Well, it’s no telling what Thomas will say (especially if he’s still brooding over the salary comment). But chances are, he’ll at least stop insisting on Thursday dishes. And he may even get so excited about college football that he forgets about Friday dishes.

What’s happened here? You initially faced a negative bargaining zone: four days of dishes demanded versus three days offered. But by introducing another issue (vacuuming), you’re now making an offer that exceeds his minimum demands (defined more broadly). You’ve turned the bargaining zone positive and, in the process, made housework negotiable.

So here’s the bottom line: Many of our conflicts only become conflicts because we fixate on one issue. By introducing another issue, we give ourselves at least a fighting chance of not fighting.

Have you ever split up the housework several chores at a time?

 

 

Friday night fights: Choosing negotiation instead of persuasion

Where to go? What to do? Where to eat? At least once a weekend, most of us discuss at least one of these questions with someone else—a friend, a significant other, a spouse.

But what happens when we disagree? It’s difficult, but negotiable.

To make it negotiable, however, is to understand the difference between negotiation and persuasion. Specifically, it’s to treat differences of opinion as opportunities to negotiate, not invitations to persuade. This post will discuss why and how to do that.

To make this real, imagine it’s Friday night. You’re dead-set on visiting your favorite gastropub, but your significant other is just as dead-set on visiting her favorite Italian restaurant. Seeing a stalemate in the cards, what will you say next?

If you’re like most people, you’ll start to extoll the gastropub’s virtues (the beer selection! the TVs! the burgers!). If that doesn’t work, you’ll probably start to subtly trash the Italian restaurant (the grumpy waiters! the tiny bathroom! the runny sauce!). In short, if you’re like most people, you’ll start to persuade. But wait, “most other people” probably includes your significant other, right? What’s she likely to do? Seeing you start to persuade, chances are that she’ll do that too. Where’s this likely to lead? Another Friday night eating stale Trader Joe’s burritos in front of Dateline NBC.

But imagine for a moment that you instead saw the situation as a chance to negotiate. What would you say then? Well, you wouldn’t just drop your taste for the gastropub, developing a sudden interest in spaghetti. To clear up a basic misconception, negotiation does not mean surrender. No – what you’d do is share your fundamental reason for wanting to visit the gastropub, which often has surprisingly little to do with the arguments you would’ve used to persuade. Perhaps the real reason underlying your gastropub preference, for example, is its proximity to your house—you’ve had a rough week and want to walk somewhere close, not drive to the Italian place three suburbs away. Next, after sharing your fundamental reason, you’d ask hers: why do you want to go to that Italian place? “Because I want somewhere quiet so we can talk,” she might say, “and we always have to shout at that gastropub.”

Well now you’ve opened up a world of possibilities. You want somewhere close, and she wants somewhere quiet. There are about five quiet restaurants within walking distance. Just by negotiating rather than persuading, you’ve avoided a nasty dispute and all of its ramifications for your Friday night.

The critical point is that negotiation is not the same thing as persuasion. Negotiation may involve some element of persuasion—you may still have to persuade your significant other than one of the five restaurants is better than another. But negotiation is much broader than persuasion, and it starts much differently—with both parties sharing their fundamental reasons.

Have you ever selected a restaurant this way?