By Jack Miller
It's easy to picture a good negotiator as a professional who would never allow emotions to intrude into a bargaining session; but that's because we only think of negotiation in the context of a commercial transaction. Negotiation is pervasive in all aspects of human existence. Some of the best negotiators in the world are under 4 feet tall. They're children. Kids are routinely able to extract concessions from bigger and more powerful adults with very little effort by playing on their emotions. We let them get away with this because they're so vulnerable. We bend over backward not to take advantage of them. Even tiny tots learn to exploit this trait to manipulate adults around them. Early on they also learn to interpret body language and facial expressions; then find ways to use adults' emotions to get their own way time and time again.
What's their secret? Most parents and teachers try to motivate youngsters with 'carrots' rather than whips. How many times have you seen an errant child actually being disciplined? How often do they actually have to eat their spinach in order to get dessert? Probably, the most truthful answer is never! Why? Because children are better at motivating their parents than parents are at motivating their kids.
Most of us don't like unpleasantness. Ask yourself how often you've overlooked transgressions in your own kids simply because you didn't want to have to deal with their emotional reaction. With little ones, you hate to wipe the expectant smile off their face, only to have it replaced with tears. With teenagers, emotional outbursts, anti-social behavior, and breakdown of communications is the price a parent pays for imposing a 'dress code' and curfews; or refusing to allow body parts to be pierced. Few parents today will confront the wrath of a youngster simply to maintain intangible standards.
I think we can learn a lot by watching children work their wiles on adults to get pretty much what they want. How do they accomplish this? They use emotional leverage. While parents generally only use positive incentives – carrots – to motivate children, kids primarily use negative incentives to motivate adults. When they don't get what they want, they cry, throw tantrums, or find ways to embarrass their parents or others who are responsible for them. Without realizing it, they intimidate adults by playing on their fear of embarrassment and litigation. The mere accusation of mistreating a child can ruin careers and cost thousands in legal fees.
So what's the lesson as it pertains to negotiation in commercial transactions? When motivating the other party during negotiation, the manipulation of emotions can be a powerful tool. When only positive incentives are used to motivate a particular result, the motivator is at a decided disadvantage if the other party is relying upon negative incentives. To become a successful negotiator, both the carrot and the whip have to be employed. The carrot is a quick transaction that solves problems. The whip is delay, fewer benefits, and emotional intensity that makes the other person uncomfortable and insecure.
Getting another person to do what you want is easier when you can get them to supplant rational decisions with emotional responses. People don't like confrontation. Emotional outbursts or playing upon fear, anger, anxiety and greed can be a real tool when it comes to negotiation. This can be pretty subtle. How many undeserved tips have been given to indifferent waitresses because the donor wanted to avoid embarrassment? We're all susceptible to our emotions. That's how funeral directors get people to spend thousands of dollars on caskets that are going to be buried in the ground or incinerated. That's why we buy 'houses' but we sell 'homes'.