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My Daughter Is a Fearless Negotiator

Image courtesy of Abbie Schiller
Image courtesy of Abbie Schiller

I come from a long line of strong women. My mother was one of the first women to run for State Senate and she was the environmental force behind carpool lanes and smog checks. My great-aunt established schools for hearing-impaired children. I started The Mother Company. Now, as the mother to an 11-year-old daughter, I feel as though I have an obligation to carry on the family tradition; to raise a game-changer girl.

Typically, women don’t negotiate well. What’s worse, negotiating poorly — or not at all — can cost women in their reputation, salaries, and happiness. That’s why it’s crucial to empower girls early on to know that they can affect an outcome simply by how they raise an issue.

There is also a big difference between kids who know how to negotiate versus manipulate.  Negotiating is both mutual and honest, and parents SHOULD teach their kids those skills, the same ones they learn in school on debate teams. Manipulating is dishonest, often secretive and divisive.

So in addition to self-defense classes, women’s studies, and sports, my girl is learning the fine art of asking for — and getting — what she wants. Here’s how:

When she wants something, she doesn’t ask for it first thing.

My girl has learned how to prime the course. Set the scene. List the things that will please me and make me feel like she deserves the thing she’s asking for. For instance, “Because I finished my homework, read books to my brother, and cleaned up the hamster cage without you even asking, can I go to the movies with Ella?” Who could say no? This is Negotiating 101.

She gets inside the head of the person with power.

She is starting to think, “What does Mom want from me?” If my goal as a mom is to have a kind, compassionate, responsible child – she tries to appeal to that directly in the ask. She might say, “If I get above 90% on my spelling test can I have that new T-shirt I want?” (And then I negotiate back by saying, “If you get 90% on the next three tests then yes, you can.”) Parents remember — be reasonable. You want your kids to win at this so don’t make things impossible for them to achieve.

She stays calm.

The girl has seen firsthand that the calm person wins an argument. My kid knows that a million “But Mommmmmmm’s” will never get her anything. Ever. She has learned that whining and begging are simply unskilled and unsuccessful attempts at negotiating. If she starts to get heated, disrespectful, agitated, or mean, not only will she not get what she wants but there will be a consequence as well. A huge step backwards. On the other hand, if emotions run high, there is always room to start fresh by saying “I’m sorry I spoke like that,” and then we revert to steps one or two.

She may lose the battle but win the war.  

Not all wishes are granted at first. It’s not how life works. Sometimes a no means “no.” And sometimes a no means, “no — until I’m ready to change my mind.” And that day will come. My daughter has been angling for an iPhone for years. She continues to lose gracefully and returns with a new argument later. One day I’ll say yes. For now, her tactic is to get me to start her with an iPod (“What if I pay for it myself?” “It can’t even make calls!” or “Can I at least use your old one for 15 minutes a day?”) and then she plans to trade up. Good idea. Still no. (For now.)

She asks for more and settles for what she originally wanted.

Sometimes when she wants to hit the mark, she has to overshoot. It’s a psychological game that I’m teaching her. If she wants a sleepover with a friend and she knows I’m on the fence, she might instead ask to spend the whole weekend at the County Fair. Then, when I say no way, she can “settle” for just one night at her house for a sleepover. See? It’s all about perspective.

Even when she uses these negotiation skills, I don’t always say yes — but sometimes when she negotiates beautifully, she deserves the reward. This past summer, my daughter reached a milestone in her negotiating ability when she wrote a six page letter from camp asking to stay an extra TWO sessions citing reasons like “you’ll save water by not doing my laundry” and “the more time I spend in nature, the less time I spend inside watching TV.” She thought of everything to counter my possible reasons for saying no. I was so impressed with her negotiating skills that she deserved to have her requests granted. She was ecstatic. We both won. She won with the reward of two more weeks at sleep-away camp because of her negotiating skills.  And I won for having a girl who can negotiate effectively.

We all win, actually, because imagine how the world would be different if all girls were empowered with these skills. If they didn’t think twice about asking for a raise. Or negotiating a better rate on a mortgage. Or fighting for what’s theirs. Let’s all teach our girls how to negotiate for what they want so us mamas can sit back with our mamas and marvel at this next generation of strong women.

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