the art of negotiation

Who hasn’t cringed at the words, “Mom, can I stay up just a little longer?”  Or, “Mom, can I take the car and drive to Mexico with my friends for spring break?”

Those might be completely different scenarios, but they can both be resolved by using the exact same technique.  It’s the art of negotiation, and I am the queen!

As a business banker, it’s no secret that I know how to negotiate with business owners, corporations, and executives.  I don’t think anyone who has known me for more than a few minutes would question my ability to negotiate my way through almost any situation.  And not just for myself.  My family considers my skills invaluable.  I have negotiated better prices for my sister on a number of occasions.   My mother took me with her furniture shopping so I could get her the best price at least once.  My aunt once drove to almost three hours, specifically for me to take her to garage sales, so I could negotiate her deals. And I even managed to negotiate a free year of cable thanks to my superior skills.  I have always been the one that gets put into the game when a price negotiation was required.  I’m like the clean up pitcher of the shopping circuit. 

After I managed to get a department store to lower a fixed price on an item I desperately wanted, my son told me that I had a black belt in bullshit— and what mom doesn’t want to hear that?  I can’t help it, I take these things seriously!  I’ve even made a car salesman cry!  (and I’m not talking about my ex husband!)

Today’s negotiations started the minute I put on my favorite pants and discovered that they were a little more snug than the last time I’d worn them.  I managed to half convince myself that they were only tight because of the dryer.  Everyone knows that the dryer makes everything shrink a little.  You just have to wear it for a while so it will stretch back out.  Never mind that they aren’t made of cotton or that I only threw them in the dryer for a few minutes to chase off the wrinkles from being on a hanger.  Still, I had to allow that it was possible—although highly unlikely—that it wasn’t the pants that had gotten smaller, but my butt that had gotten larger.  Even if it was only slightly.  So the negotiation turned in the direction of the Girl Scout cookies. 

The problem with negotiating with one’s self is that it is far too easy to switch sides. I have been debating all day about the cookies.  I won…or maybe I lost.  Either way, no Girl Scout cookies for me today. 

See how good I am?  I even managed to beat the Thin Mint addiction with a few well placed arguments.  And it’s a good thing I am that good.  I have to engage in the most challenging of negotiations on a daily basis.  I have…


Living with teenagers is living a life of constant negotiations.  And when you are negotiating with teenagers you have to approach the task the same way you would an auction.  You have to start your bidding low, and let them try to drive you back up.  Such as with curfews. 

“Be home by eight-thirty!” 

See?  Bring that first offer in low.  Don’t give away the store right from the get-go.  Is eight-thirty an early curfew for a pair of sixteen year olds?  Probably.  But if I had said be home at ten, they would still come back with another offer.  They would be pushing for eleven.  By starting with eight-thirty, I can give up nine o’clock and they feel like they have won a battle.  I would have given them ten, but because I started at eight-thirty, they feel like they’ve gotten over on me by coming in at nine!  Don’t forget to make it seem as though giving in was difficult or they will smell a false victory.  My teenagers still haven’t caught on to the logic, and when they do, I will have taught them a very valuable lesson. 

Just this evening, my daughter decided she wanted to go to a friend’s house for a few hours after school.  I could have easily laid down the rules plain and simple.  No drinking, no drugs, no sex, no smoking, no fighting.  And make no mistake about it…you will have to remind them of the rules every single time they go out, or they will make the assumption that your failure to mention them indicates a fundamental shift in the rules. So I quickly ran through the rules.  Now, I could have easily left it at that, but then I would have nowhere to go when she felt the need to negotiate.  It is important to remember that they will always try to negotiate.  But can you even consider negotiating on those most basic of rules?   No.  So I needed to throw in some rules that I was willing to compromise on.  I added no kissing, no texting, no taking pictures, no listening to music and no dancing.  When you throw those things into the mix, the average teenager doesn’t know where to go in the negotiations.  My daughter immediately went after the ability to text and listen to music—life sustaining activities for a teenager.  That allowed me to counter with no rap music with foul language, and as an added twist I tossed in, “absolutely no popping a cap in anyone’s ass!”  Pretty good advice in most any situation.

I think I managed to completely confuse her, and she simply asked if it was ok to watch a movie and play video games.  I didn’t even have to renegotiate her curfew.  She was home a full hour before nine.  Mission accomplished! 

Now if I could only take my negotiating skills to the next level and convince my geriatric dog that the yard is a perfectly good place to use the bathroom, and that the cat box is absolutely NOT a place to search for a midnight snack!  If I could somehow manage that, I may even make it into the record books or something.  I think even Donald Trump would bow down to my expertise if I could pull off that feat. 

Until the next time…I will be negotiating with my husband for control of the remotes!

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Posted on February 25, 2010 .