Negotiating Bedtime and Taking Out the Trash

Published: Sep 05 , 2013
Author: Simon Letchford

I’ve always found it fascinating how many people who attend our negotiating skills training talk about how the techniques that work in the workplace have worked at home as well. There are, however, a few pitfalls for those who want to hone their negotiating skills in the kitchen, so I thought that I’d share a few domestic do's and don'ts, mostly learned the hard way...

The core model we teach, the Scotwork 8-Step Approach© to negotiations, is framed primarily in the context of long-term relationships, which–hopefully—includes our marriages (okay, exclude Kim Kardashian's 72-day wedded bliss), and of course the relationships we have with our kids. And over the years I've heard some great examples of using the techniques for significant and mutual domestic benefit.

For example, midway through one Advancing Negotiation Skills course, a participant told me that she'd already used one of the 50 or so techniques we'd covered at that stage to deliver a big personal benefit. Her 4-year-old son had been scared going to sleep, and for some weeks had been insisting that Mum lay next to him until he fell asleep. If you’ve ever gone through a co-sleeping period with your kids (my sympathies!), you know how much time it requires.

One night during the course she had asked her son, "Under what circumstances would you be comfortable to sleep alone?" He thought for a few seconds, and then told Mum that his concern was that if anything bad happened she couldn't hear him from his bedroom, but if Mum bought a baby monitor so she could hear him, he would be fine. This from a 4-year-old! Hey presto, an hour a day saved and a happy son to boot!

The simple change of presenting conditions before offers in proposals can make a big difference to how kids respond. Lots of parents have been amazed how much more effective it's been to replace, “We’re not going to the zoo tomorrow unless you clean up your room tonight!" (a sanction) with, “If you clean up your room tonight, you can to go to the zoo tomorrow. How does that sound?" (a proposal).

One of my colleagues recently said that his two teenage girls had told him, "Dad, you don't yell at us anymore!" Although they did apparently complain that getting stuff for free from Dad was harder than ever.

I've even had a couple of friends going through divorce who sit down with the Scotwork objective sheet to work out what they wanted for themselves, their kids, their soon-to-be ex, their living situation and so on. Forcing themselves to write down their objectives, clarify their priorities, consider where they might be flexible, build a wish list and so on helped them get beyond blame and argument and move towards a resolution or at least a proposed resolution. You know what we say on the course: A proposal beats an argument! Get some legal advice first, though...

The simple question, "What can I do to make it up to you, darling?" has helped resolve many a domestic dispute over a late night with the boys, a Sunday hangover or a forgotten anniversary. You might want to drop the "darling" at work, though, unless you're very close to your boss, or seeking a really big pay raise.

  The skills you learnt with Scotwork really are life skills (what we sometimes call "uncommon sense"). They seem obvious in retrospect, but most people—young professionals right up to CEOs—don't use them well, and don't realize it. I would be surprised if you don't find five to 10 opportunities a day to use and develop these skills, so you may as well practice on the home front.

However, not everything in life is a negotiation, and in the context of a good marriage and in fact any good relationship you certainly should be aiming to "lose a few." Negotiating skills build on relationships; they don't replace them. Personally I think there's nothing better than happily and consciously throwing unconditional concessions at your loved ones and friends. You should do it often, happily and generously.

And I'd be lying if I didn't chuckle a little whenever my wife responds to my home-front negotiations with her standard "Will you please cut out that negotiating business and just do what I'm asking?"

Sometimes, well, it really is your turn to put the trash out!

Simon Letchford


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