Elements of a Confident Kid… Negotiation
– a formal discussion between people who are trying to reach an agreement. 1
Children begin to develop some of the foundational skills for effective negotiation early. Typically, they are able to articulate a compelling, heart-felt argument as to why they should be the one to receive one more cookie. They are practicing the art of negotiation but fall short when, often, the parent will respond with a definitive “No.” But what if the child were to consider the parent’s perspective? Is the “no” motivated by a desire for a healthier child? Is it motivated by a need to calm down before bedtime by reducing sugar? Your child will need to understand those motivations if he is to have a significant advantage when putting together a heart-felt argument that will be successful. There are indeed a number of skills that need to be developed and practiced in order to engage in a win-win negotiation. These agreements provide both parties with the feeling that their own desires are at least partially met through a mutually agreed upon solution. Confident parents will help kids practice these skills since they are critical to both healthy relationships and the ability to succeed in the work world.
Skilled negotiators must have active listening skills. They need to listen on multiple levels, not only to the words spoken but also to the feelings and desires of the speaker. They should ask questions or paraphrase back to the other their interpretation of the other’s motivations in order to check for accuracy.
In negotiation, such “mind reading” is an important skill: if you think the other side has a desire to be fair, you are likely to be open to sharing information that moves talks forward. By contrast, if you infer that your counterpart doesn’t care about your interests, you may be withholding and distrustful, and your outcomes will suffer as a result. 2
Do your children assume you act fairly? If so, your negotiations practice will begin with that advantage. Harvard Law School also teaches that skilled negotiators have to examine their assumptions. When entering a conversation where each person wants something, we easily slip into “social projection,” assuming that others share our same desires. That thinking can place a negotiator at a significant disadvantage. So how do you leave behind your biases and help children do the same?
Promoting Negotiation Skills:
Practice empathy through perspective taking. The following are Robert Selman’s five stages of perspective-taking3 with my own practical suggestions for how you can support your children’s development through the years.
1. Undifferentiated perspective taking (ages 3-6)
Children have a sense of their own thoughts and feelings and the fact that their actions cause others to react but sometimes may confuse others’ thoughts and feelings with their own.
Easy practice: Look for chances to identify different kinds of emotions when interacting with others. “Look at that woman’s expression in the store. Her face says to me she’s frustrated.” The posters with multiple facial expressions are also great for expanding a feelings vocabulary. Check out this one. My son’s favorite is “lovestruck!”
2. Social-informational perspective taking (ages 5-9)
Children understand that different perspectives may mean that people have access to different information than they have.
Easy practice: When you are reading books with your child, stop when you find a belief, perspective, motivation or course of action that would differ from what your daughter would choose. Talk about the character’s perspective and motivation and its possible origin.
3. Self-reflective perspective taking (ages 7-12)
Children can view others’ perspectives by interpreting others’ thoughts and feelings and recognize that other people can do the same.
Easy practice: Guide an upset children through a conflict situation by asking them, after cooling down, to tell what they are thinking and feeling and then, ask them to interpret what the other person is thinking and feeling.
4. Third party perspective taking (ages 10-15)
Children are able to mentally step outside of their own thoughts and feelings and another person’s and see a situation from a third person, impartial perspective.
Easy practice: This is a perfect time for a child to read biographies about other people’s lives that might interest them. Select a person together because you both know something about the person’s life. Or read the biography yourself and talk about it with your child.
5. Societal perspective-taking (ages 14-adult)
Begin to see that the third party perspective can be influenced by larger systems and societal values.
Easy practice: Offer opportunities to learn and experience other cultures and reflect on differing perspectives and values. Visit churches, synagogues or other places of worship outside of your belief system. Volunteer with your child in a nursing home or homeless shelter. When you hear your children are curious in another culture, government or belief system, explore their interest through books, volunteerism, festivals, travel and other mind expanding experiences.
When working toward a win-win solution, the person with whom you are negotiating ultimately needs to feel respected and understood. Practice in perspective taking will help increase a child’s confidence that they can meet others where they are and work through any difficulty ensuring all involved leave with a fair solution. Not only can perspective taking help children sustain healthy relationships, but they will also have the ability to grow and deepen those relationships through greater trust and understanding.
For related articles, check out:
Working It Out – Adults helping facilitating a problem-solving process with kids who are in conflict
Critical Conversations – How parents can communicate effectively in the most challenging conversations with their children.
The Halloween Trading Places Challenge – Read about parents who traded places for an evening with their kids and what they learned. Try it out in your family!
1. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved on January 13, 2015 from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/negotiation
2. PON STAFF (Oct. 31, 2014). Win Win Negotiations – How to Be a Better Mind Reader: New Research Suggests Why It Pays to Take Your Counterpart’s. WIN-WIN NEGOTIATIONS
3. Selman, R.L. (1975). Level of social perspective taking and the development of empathy in children: Speculations from a social-cognitive viewpoint. Journal of Moral Education. 5 (1) 35-43.