Master of negotiation says there's much we can learn from kids

We were treated pretty well back when we were in diapers. We made our wishes known, and the world as we knew it listened. When we wanted to be fed, we were fed. No waiting around for the dinner to get done or the waiter to notice us jumping up and down and waving our arms. When we were feeling a little damp, we vocalized our concern and, whammo, it was all taken care of.

Ah, the good old days.

The lessons from those early days can serve us well as adults, says Herb Cohen, the "Grand Master of Negotiation."

His book "You Can Negotiate Anything" (Bantam, 1982) was on the New York Times bestseller list for nearly a year and is considered one of the greatest negotiation books of all time. I recently talked to my good friend Herb, and I'm passing along some of his negotiating tips that really make sense.

Herb said: "If you think about it, who, in this society, are among the most successful negotiators? In other words, who are people who seem to get what they want? I would answer that: children. Children are little people in a big person's world. They are people without formal authority or power, yet they seem to get what they want."

What is it that these little people do so well? Herb listed several examples:

They aim high. They understand that if you expect more, you get more. Herb says, "Raise your sights." Ask for more, you get more.

Children recognize that "no" is an opening bargaining position. A lot of people think "no" is final. No. "No" means that at this particular moment in time. It takes awhile to get used to a "no" idea. When people hear an idea for the first time, they react negatively. Recognize that.

Children are in the habit of forming coalitions. Very few of us are solitary decisionmakers.

Herb said: "Whom do kids form coalitions with? Their grandparents. In other words, they make a request of their mother. Mother says no. They make the same request to their father. Father says no. They appeal to their next level, to their grandparents, which is easy because they have a common enemy, the parents."

Kids are good negotiators because they are naive. They say things like, "I don't know. I don't understand. Help me." And that works.

In fact, a lot of executives think it's their job in a negotiation to tell the other side how brilliant they are and what their background is. Not a winning strategy. If you're brilliant or intelligent, let the other side discover it. Don't help them. In other words, you don't even want to look too good in a negotiation.

Last of all:

Kids tend to be tenacious and persistent. They wear you down. So be persistent, repeat your point over and over again. Wear the other side down.

If you do some of these things, you become much more effective, you become a much better negotiator, and you make things happen.

Herb's wisdom resonates with anyone who has ever dealt with a youngster. It seems to me these strategies are not mean or threatening. They aren't sneaky or deceitful. You can look across the bargaining table and know that you are being upfront, direct and determined. Your motives are honest, your position is clear and your desired outcome is unmistakable.

Now, keep in mind I'm not suggesting that you act childish. Just reprogram your thinking to a childlike view. Clear out the clutter and ask for what you want. No, ask for more than you want. Then be prepared to accept less than you ask for. That makes the other side feel as if they have gotten a real concession from you. So stunningly simple, yet blindingly brilliant.

You'll learn a lot from your kids, but few lessons will be more useful in your business life than learning how to effectively negotiate. But remember, no whining!

Mackay's Moral: Think like an adult, but negotiate like a child.

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman and author. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or send e-mail to harvey@mackay.com. His column is distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

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