How To Negotiate Like A Pro (by negotiating like a kid) via @DevonMSmiley

SOI Kids Negotiation


by Devon Smiley | Featured Contributor

Throughout my career, I’ve been at the table with some tough negotiators. They have a singular focus on achieving targets, and a bag full of tactics to help them get their way – these have been some stressful sessions.

But although discussions with them were tough, they’re not the best negotiators I’ve come across…not by a long shot.

That would be the 5 year olds I worked with as a camp counselor during my university summers.

Driven? Results oriented? Creative? Those bright youngsters were all of those – and boy, did they teach me a thing or two about negotiation.

Here are your top 3 kid tested and negotiation coach approved strategies for making your next ask.

#1  Make a specific request

Each Friday afternoon at camp, all of the kids got a freeze pop to celebrate the end of another great week. Often, when they got to the front of the line, I’d hear a very specific request: “Red freezie please.” Or “Can I have a blue ice pop?” I’d then do my best to dig through the box to retrieve the requested flavor. The power of those requests came in how specific they were – they weren’t just after a sweet treat, but their favourite one.

In your business, consider how you can make specific requests rather than general ones. Instead of asking for a rate increase, ask for a specific percentage increase. Rather than asking for a date change with a client, propose a day and time. Getting specific sends the message that what you’re asking for has been carefully considered and is important – and that means the other party is more likely to pay attention.

#2  If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again

Try as we might, it was pretty much impossible to come up with an activity that all of the kids would want to participate in. So it was normal to be asked for permission to sit out. When one excuse didn’t work, another justification was used the next time around. If there was a quick no, bargaining ensued.

Tap into this tenacity in your own negotiations. Get creative with different proposals, varying communication techniques and a wide breadth of satisfactory solutions. When something’s not working, mix it up – and try again. The more options you create for yourself in a negotiation, the more likely you are to hit on the sweet spot where both you and your counterpart win.

#3  Pick the right person to ask

Amongst the counselors, I was (unsurprisingly) the ‘law lady’, placing importance on order and the rules. My co-workers each had their own priority for the group, whether it was creativity or physical activity. Depending on what they were asking for, the kids would direct their questions to certain counselors over others – increasing their chances of getting a big yes!

Your take away – know your audience and make sure that when you’re negotiating, it’s with the right person, with the right approach. Up your chance of success by researching the other party ahead of time, and being attentive to signals during your discussions that will tip you off on each person’s set of priorities and preferences. If they value financials the most – put focus there. Are they more of a relationship builder? Leverage that when making your ask.

It may feel odd to inject a child-like approach into your serious business discussions; but no doubt about it, there’s a magic that happens when you combine grown up experience with youthful creativity. Asking for something specific, not giving up, and knowing your audience will help you move quickly towards achieving your desired business results.

Which of these techniques can you use in your next negotiation? What’s the biggest business lesson you’ve learned from kids? Share in the comments below.


Devon Smiley – Negotiation Coach & Consultant

Devon Smiley - Negotiation CoachWith over a decade of corporate experience, Devon has negotiated $1000 product returns, multi-million dollar procurement deals -and everything in between. Her experience is distilled into spot-on analysis and actionable advice for companies of all sizes, bringing them the benefit of her laser focus on results and strong strategy development skills.

Devon is a firm believer that no business is ever too small to negotiate, and she gets a kick out of helping entrepreneurs uncover ways to bump their results up a notch (or two!), and build the skills and confidence they need to ask for – and get – what they need to achieve their best yet results. Knowing that many entrepreneurs struggle with figuring out how negotiation can help them move their business forward, Devon created the ‘3 Must Do Business Boosters’ guide to jumpstart the process.

A proud graduate of McGill University’s undergraduate business school and Northeastern University’s MBA program, Devon is an avid student and life-long learner, with professional certificates in both operations management and French language.

Devon lives in Montreal with her dog Jack, but is a Parisienne at heart, with a great love for all of the history, culture and croissants the city has to offer. A keen admirer of fashion and art, Devon is happiest when soaking up inspiration at the Louvre, sipping espresso at her local café, or strolling down the boulevards catching glimpses of the Eiffel tower.

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14 Replies to “How To Negotiate Like A Pro (by negotiating like a kid) via @DevonMSmiley”

  1. Diana Pagnucco

    Great tips, Devon! I’ve used all of those, and you’re right – it’s amazingly similar to how we deal with kids. For me, #1 resonates a lot. How can you get what you want if you’re too nervous to come out and ask clearly? I find it’s such a relief to not try to play read-my-mind or take-the-hint. Thanks!

    1. Devon Smiley[ Post Author ]

      Thanks Diana! You’re spot on – playing take-the-hint is pretty ineffective – and it’s funny how we’ll then be upset we didn’t get what we really wanted. Shocking! 😉

  2. Catarina

    Love this advice Devon! I’ve also found it helps to use a sense of humor – this builds a connection and makes it harder for people to say no. Thanks!

    1. Devon Smiley[ Post Author ]

      Excellent point on using humor – a well-time giggle can break even the worst tension. Thanks Catarina!

  3. K Ellyatt

    I really love this. I never think of myself as a good negotiator. But using these easy to remember, child like terms – I really think I’ll be able to summon them up quickly the next time I need to!

    1. Devon Smiley[ Post Author ]

      Glad to hear it! Bringing things back to kid-friendly basics comes in handy even for us grown-ups. 🙂

  4. Jeneen Nicole Barlow

    Of course! To quote my seven year old, “Momma, you’re the No-er but Dad is the yes-er. You make us healthy but dad makes us happy!”

    Your article has made me pay much closer attention to what my little love already knew about negotiating. Now I will always remember and use these lessons. What an excellent read.

    Thank you, Devon!

    1. Devon Smiley[ Post Author ]

      Thanks so much Jeneen – sounds like you’ve got a keen negotiator on your hands!

  5. Rachel

    Such great strategies – thank you! I always find it so helpful to figure out what it is I actually want from the interaction (especially in customer service scenarios), for a successful outcome, so I’ll be trying these out! Watch out world!

    1. Devon Smiley[ Post Author ]

      Go get ’em Rachel!

  6. Lisa Gatti

    Thanks, Devon! This is great advice and easy to follow.

    As someone who has a tendency to try something only once, you’ve opened my eyes to “getting creative with different proposals”.

    And for me, some of the best advice comes from my kids 🙂

    1. Devon Smiley[ Post Author ]

      Love it Lisa – it’s great how kids just ‘get it’ and are wise beyond their years sometimes.

  7. Peggy Freeh

    Hi Devon!

    I love this! It’s so easy to remember all your advice.

    And I will use “Make a specific request” for my next ask. I tend to be really general and open when I make an ask, but I can see it’s better to be clear up front about what I want and then work from there.


    1. Devon Smiley[ Post Author ]

      Thanks Peggy! Love that you’ll be narrowing down your next ask – sometimes it’s tempting to leave it ‘loose’ so that we give flexibility to the other person…but getting specific makes it oh-so easy for them to help you.

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