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How to get the best deal possible: Negotiation strategies I learned from my 5 five-year-old.

Kindergartens must have upped their game. It seems they're teaching negotiating skills. At least, that's what you'd conclude from talking to my five-year-old. He has an uncanny knack for getting what he wants.


Here are a few tips I've picked up from observing my kids in the wild. I think they apply equally well to the art of negotiating deals in show business.


Ask for what you want

Kids are great at asking for, demanding, actually, the things they want.


“Dad, can I please have a chocolate bar for breakfast?”


Negotiations always start with an ask. It makes sense to ask for everything you want from a deal, even if you don't expect to get exactly what you've specified.

“No, but if you eat your eggs, you can have a chocolate chip cookie in your lunch”


Ask again….. And again

Persistence pays off. It's not just about wearing the other side down.

Don't take no for an answer

“For real, Dad!” He says. “I'm serious. I've got to have that super-duper-power-blaster-doohickey-thingamabob, or my life will be ruined!”

If it's really a “must have” item on your list of deal points, you can't give up. Either you get what you need, or,the deal isn't worth doing. If the other side won't give in, take your ball and go home.

Learn to read the other side

When my 5 year old wants something, he wisely (sometimes) evaluates my mood and ability to respond favorably before jumping in with his demands.

“Hey Dad, how're you doing?” (he doesn't really ask this, he looks for the more subtle cues, like scowling.)

Just as it's important to know what you want and must have in the deal, you need also to have a good sense of the other side. Their wants and needs are the other moving parts in the negotiation. If they aren't able to concede on a point, and it's not a must-have for you, it's wise to recognize this, and use the point as a “give” to get compromise in some other area that's important to you.


Learn when you SHOULD take no for an answer

If the other side can't or won't give a point, and is ready to walk away from a deal over something you don't absolutely need, the smart move is to take no for an answer and refocus your energies on points the other side can give. Digging in on a point of contention isn't good for the overall outcome of a negotiation.


Offer compromises

When arguing with his younger sister over a particular toy to play with, my 5-year old is often heard to say “why don't we play with it together”, or If I let you have a turn, I get to have a turn later, okay?” By allowing her to have something she wants, he's able to get (mostly) what he wants, too.


If a party isn't willing to give on any points, and is dug-in on it's original position without showing any willingness to move, you're not in a negotiation. You've been given an ultimatum.


When faced with an ultimatum, there's only one consideration… whether the other side has sufficient leverage to coerce you into performing. If not, walk away. There's no “deal” here. Just a price.



Sweeten the pot

“Dad, if you get me this toy, I promise I'll set the dinner table every night.”

Sometimes, if the negotiation isn't going as well as you'd hope, it's necessary to offer something more. Something that will make your offer more compelling, without costing you a must-have deal point. In a theatrical production agreement, for example, a producer might increase the number of tickets available to the playwright, or provide for a special credit

Acknowledge a good deal, and express your good feelings about it.

“Yay! I'm so excited I get a super-duper-doohickey-thingamabob!” he shouts, telling anyone who'll listen (and often those who don't care to). His exuberance and happiness is infectious, and makes me glad to have been able to give him something he wants. It's a nice feeling.


Acknowledging the success of the negotiation is the classy thing to do, even if you're not exuberant, and shouting it from the rooftops. A simple, “Thank you. It's going to be great to work on this project together. I'm really excited about this opportunity.” can make a real difference in how the relationship proceeds.


Make nice afterwards.

If the deal is truly a win-win for everyone involved, you've established the foundation on which to build a strong, positive working relationship, and maybe even a friendship. If things go well, and you're friendly and congenial about everything, there's even the possibility of working together on other things in the future.

Offering the olive-branch only makes sense.


I'm not suggesting that we behave like 5 year olds when we negotiate deals for our work in the film, television or theatre business. But there are things we can learn from watching how kids interact, especially with us. So, next time you're stuck for what to do in a negotiation, ask yourself, “What would a kid do to get the most out of a deal?” You might be surprised how well it can work.


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