I have noticed that there are a number of workers beginning to call for pay rises at the moment. Let me tell them that if you want to achieve your aims you need my six year old granddaughter on your side! Have you noticed that children are the best negotiators?

They have no scruples, and don’t hesitate to argue, manipulate and bully until they get what they want. Children have only one preferred outcome to any argument, and that is “I win – you lose”

So perhaps the word ‘negotiator’ is not really accurate. After all it indicates a willingness to reach a consensus – and I have not met a six year old child that has the slightest idea what that means. It is either “I get what I want now – or here comes the tantrum!’

The trouble is that I have also met some adults who still have the same attitude – and that leads to trouble in the work place. So perhaps it’s time that we revisit the aims of negotiation – just as a reminder to ourselves that negotiation is for adults – which we, hopefully, are.

The difference between argument and negotiation is the willingness to resolve the issue. Arguments are putting our own opinion and we don’t need to be willing to listen to another point of view or even concede the value in their argument. There is no willingness to concede on anything when we argue.

On the other hand – to negotiate means to listen to the other side of the conflict, to understand the basis from which they operate and to be willing to take action that will lead to resolving the issue.

When was the last time that you were involved in an argument? What was the outcome? Did you continue to forcefully put your point of view without any wish to listen to the other side? If so, you may have walked away with a win/lose result. But I bet the atmosphere was icy for some time. And if you were engaged in an argument where the other person forced this outcome, then remember how you felt – it is not a pleasant thing to recall.

The problem with this outcome is that no-one likes to be a loser, and if you force your own preferred outcome so that you get everything you want, you will force the other party to be a loser. They are unlikely to forget the humiliation and will inevitably carry resentment for some time. Should they then get the upper hand, then watch out. This is not a long term solution and has no place in negotiations.

Unfortunately, another outcome of a bitter dispute is where neither party wins, when neither of them will shift their position nor be willing to look at other solutions that may help resolve the point at issue. If this continues then it’s almost all out war – and no one wins anything, in fact it is the classic lose/lose situation and no-one is happy. Again, the willingness to work to resolve the issue is missing and the outcome can be tragic.

So what about the ‘workable compromise’? Here, surely everyone wins? And even children have heard about this one from ‘Sesame Street’, and boy do they work it for all they can get! The trouble is that compromise is built on loss – both side have to loose something to achieve a compromise. And no matter how the situation is resolved there may be a sense that they were forced into giving up something they did not want to. Compromise looks good on the surface, but resentment can be simmering underneath and when it breaks out it the person will be even more determined to force a win/lose result in their favour.

For instance the original point of contention may be that the employees want a $10 per day rise in wages. The employer offers $2 and they compromise on $6 per day. In this case although a compromise has been reached neither side is really happy. The employees feel that they were forced to accept less than they wanted, while the employer feels forced to give more than they think they can afford. Compromise? Yes – but at what cost.

The real win/win result comes from a willingness to attack the problem rather than the opposition, and this requires collaboration to reach a consensus. Negotiation means a working together to create an outcome which is acceptable to all; and sometimes this means looking at other options to resolve the dispute.

In our example above, if the parties worked together to achieve a collaborated outcome, the consensus could be that there would be no pay rise, but maybe a radical change of hours, increased bonus and superannuation entitlements.

A successful negotiation is where both sides accept the result as a good deal for their party. An unwillingness to develop other solutions is not part of negotiations. And that of course is where the six year old is handicapped – I have yet to meet one who understands the true meaning of the word. Six year olds focus on the I win – you lose, and at best can be forced into a compromise, but I bet they don’t like it.

Having a willingness to resolve issues rather than win them comes with maturity, and how I wish some adults were mature enough to understand that.

Michele @ Trischel

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