How to negotiate with kids (& adults!) 👇🏼
Negotiation isn’t only about business deals or hostage situations. Ultimately, it’s the skill of working with people. That means everyone should learn negotiation—especially people who work with kids.
Working with kids is all about helping them learn to make good decisions. And that’s what a good negotiator does too. They partner with people to help them think more clearly about their choices.
We tend to get negotiation wrong in 2 ways: 1. We think they’re about making demands 2. We think they’re about balanced compromises These misunderstandings lead to big problems.
First, making demands can lead kids to either rebel or give up. In other words, demands make kids feel like you’re taking away their power. They’ll either refuse and do their own thing or disengage entirely.
Second, a balanced compromise isn’t always the best outcome. Let’s say a teenager wants to go clubbing all night on a Wednesday, but you compromise by letting them stay out late at a friend’s house. That’s balanced but not best. Teenagers need rest, especially on weeknights.
Great negotiators make people feel powerful and autonomous. They help people make the best possible choice by using their own critical thinking to analyze their decisions. But how?!
Here are 4 of Chris’ tactics: 1. Use Your Voice 🗣 Humans naturally copy the energy of the people they’re around. As a result, you can shape the conversation by *how* you say what you say.
Use a positive, playful voice most of the time. It’ll help kids feel comfortable and encouraged. When they get anxious/upset, use the late-night FM DJ voice: slow, deep, and calm. Use an assertive voice sparingly, only for *very* important points because it’ll cause pushback.
2. Mirror 🪞 The best way to help someone think is to force them to reflect on what they’re saying. Don’t critique their wrong ideas. Instead, repeat back to them the last few words from their last sentence. Here’s an example conversation:
Teen: “I want to go clubbing with my friends” Parent: “with your friends…” Teen: “Yeah, I’ve worked hard this semester and I think I earned a break.” Parent: “earned a break…” Teen: “Well, they’ve asked me a few times and I’ve said no to study” Parent: “no to study…”
Avoid sounding sassy / disapproving. The goal isn’t to shame them or make them feel bad about their thought process. The goal is to keep them talking and open their eyes to their thinking. As a result, you’ll help them analyze whether they’re making good decisions on their own.
3. Label 🏷 People open up to new ideas when they feel understood. That’s the power of empathy! We often get it wrong by making the conversation about us. We say things like: “Oh man, I know what that’s like.” We’re trying to connect but we actually make others feel unheard.
Don’t say you know what they feel. Show it! Put a label on the emotions you see and then pause. Give them a chance to unpack and explain what they’re feeling. Here’s an example:
Teen: “Please dad, the club would be so much fun.” Parent: “It sounds like you want to celebrate your hard work with friends.” Teen: “Yes! I’ve studied so much this year that I haven’t been able to spend any time with them. This is our last chance to hang out before graduation”
Labels will give you a chance to verify what you think they’re feeling. They make others feel like you’re listening and seriously considering their emotions. They also help them develop more self-awareness of their own perspective.
4. Ask Open Questions ❓ The last tactic is to ask genuine questions that get kids thinking. For example, instead of saying “No” to the club, you could ask: “How am I supposed to let you stay out so late at a club?”
Start with “how” and make sure it’s an open-ended question, not yes or no. Your goal is to engage them and draw them into the problem-solving process. You’re challenging them to take responsibility to find a better alternative for themselves.
These tactics will help you build a strong relationship as you work through hard problems together. They’re more effective for creating solutions that’re best for everyone. You’re also setting an example for how your kids can work well with other people themselves.