Negotiation Meets Sustainability – A Personal Story

I talked in my last blog about how negotiation can genuinely create lasting and sustainable benefits for all stakeholders by focusing on needs and not wants, working on really understanding the other side’s sheet of paper, not falling prey to one’s ego and listening. This will then lead to growing the pie for everyone. An example from my personal life might help to further illustrate this.

I use the skills of negotiation in my personal life just as much, if not more than in my business life. With young children I have to work even harder to listen, empathize and understand. Last week my younger son was exhausted, and it was getting towards bedtime… The negotiation starts. He wants to watch TV, whereas I think he needs to go to bed and get an early night. “That’s not fair!” is the response, “can I just have 30 minutes, and then I promise I’ll go to bed?” My instinct is to give in, he’s asking so sweetly, and my love for him wants to grant this reasonable request. I stop for a second and think that it’s me who will be dealing with his mood the following day and I say “No, but tomorrow we can play in the garden more than we did today.”

His next proposal is an predictable: he suggests reducing the TV time to 20 minutes. I want to get a few jobs done before my bedtime so I’m under time pressure here (always a factor that comes into negotiations) and so want to end this quickly, either with some TV or with him going straight to bed. However, I take a moment, step back and focus on needs not wants. If it becomes a battle of wills we will both lose out. What is the solutions that will have longer lasting results. So, I crouch down and say, with unexpected calm, “Let’s go up to bed now and I will read him some extra pages from Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince.” He screws up his face for a bit, but then slowly he relents IF (the most important word in a negotiation) he can also have a nice hot drink. That’s an easy one for me to concede, as it will help him sleep.

So we have a happy time reading in bed, plus he also reads some of it to me which is improving his reading and he gets a sense of achievement. My worries from the day fall away and I feel I’ve learned something about being a parent. He falls to sleep much happier, calmer (no screen time) and wakes the next morning feeling refreshed. A genuine win-win, where, to paraphrase the great Mick Jagger, we didn’t get what we wanted but what we needed.

I had to try something new in this negotiation. I had to:
1. resist the temptation to fall prey to the parental ego of always being right

2. take some time to look at the situation to understand needs, and our “sheets of paper”

3. be comfortable saying no, but that led to a better solution for everyone involved – his mother and brother too!

If we do this enough times, it becomes a positive habit that is sustainable and all of us affected, i.e. the stakeholders, reap the benefits.