6 Rules Kindergarten Taught About Negotiating

Fatimah Gilliam Founder, and CEO The Azara Group

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Most of us want to become better negotiators. We want that innate ability to finesse our way to getting what we want and convincing others to follow our ideas. In order to successfully lead and manage, you need to know how to influence those around you in a way that promotes lasting relationships.

To improve what tools are in your negotiation skills basket, emulate the experts who routinely hone their craft and push themselves to grow. You could take classes and read books. You could practice daily by finding small ways to negotiate - at the supermarket or gym, or with your friends and family. If you need strategic guidance and coaching, you could hire a trusted advisor to counsel you through business and workplace negotiations like many senior executives.

When thinking about Negotiations 101, what we learned in kindergarten should be a lifelong guide. We learned key fundamentals about how to engage with people. While we were busy playing in the sandbox, eating paste, and making animals out of Play-Doh, we were taught about life, human nature, and negotiating.

Here are six childhood rules that can help you navigate difficult conversations and negotiate for what's important to you.

1. R-E-S-P-E-C-T

This may sound basic, but so much in life comes down to how we behave towards people. Treat others how you want to be treated. Always be respectful. There's no need to unnecessarily hurt feelings and bruise egos. Do you really think you will win over your colleagues if you're flippant when someone shares an idea? What about when you're nasty and arrogantly talk down to people like they're dirt? How far has that approach gotten you? Most likely, not far at all.

When you want to expand your leverage - even when you have the upper hand and more bargaining power - a little restraint and common decency go a long way. If you wouldn't want someone to do the same thing to you, then don't do it to them!

Relationships span across time and negotiations don't happen in a bubble. If you're a jerk, you'll sabotage your current and future negotiations.

2. Listen

Remember when your teacher told you to be quiet and pay attention? The same goes for negotiations. You can't just talk over people or let your gums flap all day long. To truly reach agreement with others, you need to engage in effective listening. Don't just hear their words, but seek understanding.

Attentively listen for what's really important to them - their interests, motivations, fears, constraints, and concerns. You may even have to read between the lines and ask follow up questions. When you know why someone wants something or disagrees with you, you can pivot and adjust. Being able to hear others allows you to create space for new possibilities and creative solutions.

3. Control Your Emotions

No one wants to deal with a child throwing a tantrum, and they most certainly don't want to be in the same room with a petulant adult. If you can't control your emotions and tend to lose your composure, others could exploit this flaw and outmaneuver you. You can become a victim of your own lack of self-control.

Learn to check your emotions, ego, and childish behavior at the door. Your negotiations and level of influence will improve when you can keep a lid on exhibiting toxic behavior that undermines your success.

4. Play Fair

If you're a cheat, dishonest, or sneaky in your dealings, eventually people will notice. You may fool people for a bit, but eventually the jig will be up. Why ruin your reputation and be perceived as a snake? Even if you're not destined to wear an orange or striped jumpsuit in "the big house," always aim for dealing fair and strong ethics.

Don't play dirty, throw others under the bus, or backstab just because your opponent is unscrupulous or you want to "win." If you agree to something - regardless if it's just on a handshake - your word should be your bond. People should be able to trust what you say, and not be afraid that you're underhanded or always trying to change the rules at every turn.

5. Clean Up Your Mess

If you made a mistake, misspoke, or are at fault, then fess up. If you need to apologize for something you did or said, then do it. If you destroyed a relationship or killed a deal because you dropped the ball or acted like a jerk, then try to fix it. Adulthood isn't easy, but it's about taking responsibility.

No one is perfect and we all make mistakes. But what truly separates the kids from the adults is being able to recognize when you made the mess, and being humble enough to clean up after yourself.

6. Sharing is Caring

When it was snack time in school, you never got to have all of the cookies while the other kids chewed on celery sticks. If there were a special treat, we had to share. When someone brought a birthday cake, everyone got a piece. We learned sharing is caring, we can't always get what we want, and we can't be greedy. We saw the importance of waiting our turn when the cookies were passed out, and we weren't allowed to snatch and gobble up our neighbor's cookies.

Just like when we were in kindergarten, we saw that you have to give a little to get a little. We learned the importance of patience, generosity, and compromise. When negotiating, if you try to snatch all of the value off of the table, you may end up in worse shape - emptyhanded, without a deal, and without any crumbs to scrape together.

Final Thoughts

When we know better, we can do better. This adage rings true for negotiating. We were taught the basics of how to negotiate and navigate relationships early in life. We should draw on these rudimentary yet critical tips to advance and be better people.

It would serve us well if we relied more frequently on the simple lessons from kindergarten and incorporated them into our lives. If we did, it could help us better lead others, drive our careers, negotiate change, and grow our businesses. More importantly, we could build more positive and lasting relationships, get more of what we want, and probably have more joy in our daily lives.