Negotiate Like You Are Dealing With A Petulant Child


By: Joe Patti

So many interactions in our lives involve some sort of negotiation whether it be starting salary, contracts, settling disagreements between employees and even deciding where to have the office Christmas party.

Eric Barker’s Barking Up The Wrong Tree  blog is a good source of tips when engaged in some sort of negotiation. Many of his articles are derived from techniques used by FBI Hostage negotiators, including tips for dealing with your kids.

It may seem unkind to equate moody kids with hostage takers. The truth is even the relatively calm environment surrounding contract and salary negotiations have a lot in common with tantrums and hostage situations in that those involved are more heavily influenced by their emotions than logic.

Woman with Boxing Gloves
Combative Teen or Your Next Business Partner? Not A Big Difference Source

For example, Barker says in regard to business negotiations,

There are five steps:

Active Listening: Listen to their side and make them aware you’re listening.
Empathy: You get an understanding of where they’re coming from and how they feel.
Rapport: Empathy is what you feel. Rapport is when they feel it back. They start to trust you.
Influence: Now that they trust you, you’ve earned the right to work on problem solving with them and recommend a course of action.
Behavioral Change: They act. (And maybe come out with their hands up.)

The problem is, you’re probably screwing it up.

In all likelihood you usually skip the first three steps. You start at 4 (Influence) and expect the other person to immediately go to 5 (Behavioral Change).

And that never works.

Saying “Here’s why I’m right and you’re wrong” might be effective if people were fundamentally rational.

But they’re not.

From my interview with former head of FBI international hostage negotiation, Chris Voss:

…business negotiations try to pretend that emotions don’t exist. What’s your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or ‘BATNA’? That’s to try to be completely unemotional and rational, which is a fiction about negotiation. Human beings are incapable of being rational, regardless… So instead of pretending emotions don’t exist in negotiations, hostage negotiators have actually designed an approach that takes emotions fully into account and uses them to influence situations, which is the reality of the way all negotiations go…

In the same manner he says, parents often jump right to lecturing and advice without going through the preliminary stages of listening, gaining empathy for the other and building trust an rapport with their kids. It is actually worth reading both pieces just to see how little difference there is between the living room and conference room.

Barker has similar advice for handling difficult conversations by changing the tempo of a heated exchange and building empathy and rapport.

In terms of business deals in particular, he provides a “The 10 Minute MBA Course On Negotiation” that deals with everything from preparation, evaluating offers and data, and establishing the proper mindset and outlook.

Joe Patti
Joe Patti
In addition to writing for ArtHacker, I have been writing the blog, Butts in the Seats ( since 2004. I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. ( I am currently the Theater Manager for the Rialto Theater in Loveland, CO. Across my career I have worked as the Executive Director at The Grand Opera House in Macon, GA, at University of Hawaii-Leeward Community College, University of Central Florida, Asolo Theater, Utah Shakespearean Festival, Appel Farm Arts and Music Center and numerous other places both defunct and funky.
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