How to Negotiate with a Baby

Disgruntled boss? Unreasonable partner or colleague? It can be extremely frustrating to negotiate with someone whose behaviour seems volatile and unpredictable, way past the acceptable age for it.


So how can you handle a negotiation with a highly emotional, stubborn and demanding counterpart? And when is the right time to walk away?


It’s easy to lose sight of your goals in a conflictual negotiation, but remember you’re usually trying to achieve two things:


  1. Preserve the existence of communication (or the negotiation itself)

  2. Achieve a fruitful negotiation outcome


Make sure the relationship is worth it


A common pitfall I see clients get caught in is putting too much emphasis on one of these over the other. Many women put so much pressure on the first point, that they forget the importance of the second one. They end up doing whatever it takes to soothe their counterpart and preserve the relationship, forgetting to make sure their transaction with their counterpart is worth it.


A colleague of mine once came up to me in tears after getting off the phone with a client of our company. He had basically lashed out at her for submitting something to their joint project he thought was not good enough. The behaviour she described was abusive. The client himself was notorious for being flaky and failing to hold up to his side of responsibilities, but my colleague was afraid to stand up for herself because she didn’t want to lose the collaboration with him.


She was fighting to preserve a relationship which hadn’t provided a fruitful outcome for months, and had now also turned abusive. When assessing the situation- make sure that pursuing the negotiation is worth it.



Don’t let the conflict scare you away from negotiating


“My boss is so unpredictable, I’d rather look for a new workplace than ask for a raise”.


Some clients are so taken aback by their counterpart’s strong emotional response that they give up on even trying to promote their goals. They may themselves be so overcome by anger and hurt, they feel compelled to give up on the negotiation altogether.


Doing this means every time you run into unsettling human emotions, you will find yourself fleeing in the other direction and losing a chance to improve your situation. Oftentimes it is a lose-lose situation for you and the “baby”.



Bottom line- make sure you are not losing the negotiation to save the relationship, and that you are not giving up on your goal for fear of facing a tough counterpart/hurting your ego.



“My boss is so unpredictable, I’d rather look for a new workplace than ask for a raise”


Lower the flames


Some mornings my son refuses to put his pants on, for no apparent reason. The more I insist, the more he screams. The battle becomes a question of autonomy and dignity.


Rather than telling him off for not wanting to put on pants and forcing them on him, I stop struggling and indicate to him that for now, I am not trying to put the pants on him. I express understanding that I see his reluctance to wear pants. Sometimes I even hug him until he has a chance to catch his breath.


When your counterpart is an emotional hurricane, it’s easy to get sucked in and respond in an equally emotional way. Don’t let your counterpart’s emotional behaviour throw you off your balance, and rather than adding to the flames, lower them.


If you’ve broken bad news to them- let them process, vent, mourn the bad news before dropping another bomb on them or going on the offensive. As discussed in the negotiation classic, “Beyond Reason” by Fischer and Shapiro - a highly emotional state can cloud judgment and make your counterpart deaf even to your attempt to placate them.


Empathy and compassion are great fire extinguishers. Having a lot on one’s plate is not a free pass for abusive behaviour, but your overbearing boss, inconsiderate customer, or tired partner may be acting unreasonably because they themselves are overburdened and stressed. Compassion in the back of your mind can help you keep your composure in a negotiation, and showing understanding can inspire gratitude in your counterpart.



Set Boundaries, Be Flexible


Going back to the example of my son and his pants - let’s consider the end goal of this negotiation: for me, it is to get my son dressed for kindergarten without damaging his sense of autonomy or being late. For him, it is to have his autonomy respected and, well…Not to wear pants right now.


Expressing our boundaries is important- I will not let him go to the kindergarten without pants. He will not pretend like he is ok with me forcing him to put on pants when he specifically expressed otherwise.


But, showing flexibility can allow both sides to get what they want. For example, I need my son to wear pants any time before Kindergarten, not right after he puts his shirt on- so I can let him run around in his diaper for a bit while I get other things done, and put them on before we leave.


Similarly, if I need a colleague to complete a certain task, and they’ve tried to shirk the responsibility onto me because they are under pressure- I can let them know this is not one I can take off their hands, but that it’s ok if they complete the task later if now is not a good time.



Know when to walk away


If we’re all very honest with ourselves, most of us negotiate like babies sometimes. Having that compassion for others can allow us to approach tough situations with presence of mind and clarity.


But being the bigger person does not equal being the victim of abusive behaviour. And let’s be serious for a moment - though walking out on a baby that’s being difficult is problematic, walking away from a discussion with adults who behave unacceptably is sometimes a must.


You are not responsible for the emotional resilience of others- and if your counterpart finds themselves incapable of controlling their emotions, that’s an invitation for you to walk away until they can.


Like this post? Check out Negotiatress’ blogpost on How to Negotiate Like a Baby



See you next post!


Yasmine Guerin

Founder of Negotiatress




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