I have been taught a harsh lesson on negotiating by my 3yr old son this week. Its something I should know, but in the heat of the moment all my negotiating sense left me and I was left looking rather silly.

We were having dinner, a penne pasta dish, and my son seemed less than keen to eat anything. As most parents will know it’s not an uncommon battle, but more often than not he will, under the threat of no treats for dessert, eat most of his food.

Tuesday night started out no different, but he had a different plan. Before I could issue my usual threat he piped up that “If I finish my dinner, I can have an ice lolly for dessert Mummy.”

“Ok.” I said.

I felt quite smug. He had actually picked up the conditional proposition and had begun to use it (even though it was slightly the wrong way round, the effort was clearly there). I even remember thinking to myself how clever he was, and congratulating myself thinking I might have a next generation to Negotiate Ltd already in the making.

Little did I know what was to come.

He began to eat, but after 3 pieces of pasta (roughly 1% of his plate) he stopped. Put down his fork, and exclaimed “There, I have finished Mummy. Now I am going to get my lolly.”

I tried to reason with him that he had not finished his plate, but his response was clear – he had finished eating.

  • There had been no clarification of the term finished. I had merely assumed he meant cleared his plate. He knew what he meant – finished eating to his satisfaction.
  • I had not tested or questioned his intentions, I had been so overwhelmed by his offer of ‘finishing’ I had blindly agreed.
  • I could not go back on my word – teaching a child means being consistent and making sure that if you say something you mean it, not just when it suits you.

So a salutary lesson was learned. Make sure you understand not just what is said, but what is meant by it in a negotiation. Define terms in detail.  Assumptions can cost you. In this case a happy hyper child just before bed time.