The Art of Negotiation


I’ve never been trained in the art of negotiation – in my previous life in the corporate world I did have some negotiation training in terms of managing people but nothing like you see on films when the expert is brought in to resolve a hostage crisis. Since becoming an adoptive parent to three children 6 years ago I am developing my skills in this area every day it seems. Children always bicker – whether they are adopted or not, siblings seem to get on each others nerves and wind each other up in all number of ways. As a parent we are constantly called on to step in and resolve a conflict that does feel like it might evolve into world war III if left unchecked.

Sometimes I get exhausted with this process. I’m sure there are others out there too who feel my pain. It would be great to have one day when I could go without saying “stop that”, “get away from your brother”, “seriously, she’s only singing”… seems that anything one of them wants to do annoys another one of them. I know from all the reading I’ve done and my contact with other adopters that control is a major issue for some adopted children. The more anxious they become the more controlling they become. And that means that those closest to them will be the ones who get the brunt of it.

I don’t like to liken our children to terrorists but as I’ve been thinking about this subject today I can’t get away from the similarities in terms of negotiating a peace treaty in our home. Whilst I don’t want to trivialise real terrorism I would like to draw some lessons for myself and other adoptive parents from the writings on negotiating with terrorists. An incident this week with one of my boys also springs to mind as I think about this. He is in year 8 and as he gets older the desire to do more with friends and more away from home gets greater. One of the areas that I’ve struggled with is being put on the spot with his friendships. The other day when dropping his friend off after a sports club on Saturday morning I was tricked into taking him with us for the afternoon. I say tricked, or possibly a misunderstanding, but both my son and his friend led me to believe he was already going to the place we were so could just tag along. Once I spoke to his Mum however she knew nothing about it and was herself put on the spot. As it transpired the afternoon was thwart with stress and anxiety for me – which started out from the feeling of having no choice in the matter. I felt intimidated, tricked and played!

“Let us never negotiate out of fear, But let us never fear to negotiate” John F Kennedy.

What a great quote! As a parent of growing teenagers the temptation to give in to their demands can be great. I know that my children need clear, firm boundaries something which seems a rarity amongst their friends. The fear that comes from the disappointment of an angry, aggressive child can have an impact on us as parents and how we respond to them.

So what are some of the lessons we can learn from thinking about negotiation?

Don’t act out of fear - Terror is a tactic used by people to change other peoples minds on something or to force people to do their will. When people agree out of fear the long-term results are negative. I can see this in our home. When I agree to something out of fear of the consequences, i.e. a huge meltdown or violence from a child, then all that comes from that is a resentful adult and a child who senses that the adult is not strong enough to keep to decisions made.

Teach compromise – ‘dealing with terrorists can only work if the process brings terrorists into a civilised negotiation that leads to willingly accepted mutual agreements’ says an article by Steven P Cohen on Terrorism and Negotiation. This is extremely difficult with children who have experienced early trauma. They are predisposed to need to get their own way to feel safe. When we try to get them to understand the concept of give and take it can seem like a very alien thought to them. When you’ve not had your basic needs met then being able to give and not take all the time proves difficult. But should this be something we are trying to teach them more of? As we try and manage the peace between siblings, or negotiating a change in the plan for the day let’s try and consider how can we move them from take, to give and take.

‘Negotiation is a constructive process’ - Again this sentence was taken from this article and it helps me to step back from the constant fighting and try to see the bigger picture. Like with compromise how can this incident become constructive in some way? Negotiation is about the future and making it better. So they may be tearing at each others throats and whilst our default may be to focus on the now – the actual incident in front of us, maybe we need to look to help them think of ways to do something different next time. I try everyday to get my children to cope with navigating the minefield of friendships which is an up and down battle. Part of the battle is them knowing we are here to help them, and the other part is when we’re not there how do they stand up for themselves and make good decisions?

As I’m writing this I’m waiting for my children to come out of a Jujitsu lesson – something they’ve done for about two years now even though they seem to not want to come frequently. The decision to let them stop comes up regularly and did again tonight. My art of negotiation is coming into play – whilst I understand that they find aspects of it difficult for different reasons I do think it’s good for them and in the long run will be something that will give them lots of valuable skills. Do I act out of fear and give in to their moaning about coming? Do I try to use the opportunity to teach them compromise? – if they go then maybe we can do something they enjoy later (bribery probably) and do I see the process of arguing about coming as a constructive lesson in negotiation? What can I learn from this, and what can they learn?

So whilst I’m not sure I’ve come to any conclusions on this subject today I do think I’ve started on the process of understanding the art of negotiating with my children – they are not terrorists but growing, developing, pushing the boundaries, finding themselves little people who need me to master this art quickly!



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