How to communicate with your child like an FBI negotiator

Do you ever feel like you just can’t win with your kids? Picture this, you have five minutes before you have to leave and all of a sudden your little darling, decides they no longer want to go to their friends party. Even though, they were just raving about how excited they were ten minutes earlier! How ridiculous!

This leads to you calling out their crazy behaviour and being met with a firm “No!” You then change your approach and try being understanding and yet they still refuse to leave. So, you go back to being the boss, because you are the boss, right? However, you are met with hysterical screaming that would have your neighbours thinking you were a mass murderer!

How about a bribe? Just so that you can leave the house! Ice cream, toys, TV; whatever works! While it is a success this time, you know that you have set yourself up for failure for future negotiations. So, how do we negotiate with kids?

Former FBI negotiator, Chris Voss is the author of Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It. In the book, he speaks about various techniques he picked up during his career as an international kidnapping negotiator.

How to negotiate with kids

1. Negotiating with kids is not actually that different from talking to adults.

They are working out how much power they have, where they stand in the pecking order and how to get what they want. Right from an early age, a baby works out that crying gains the attention of their carers. If you think about it, many kids are actually extremely effective at always getting what they want. We need to change our mindset in the situation and take out the emotion.

To take control of the situation, we need to smile and talk to them in a calm, assertive and caring manner. We want to assure them that they are in a safe environment and that we have their best interests at heart.

2. Let them go first by saying

“It seems/sounds/looks like you have something on your mind.” By labelling their behaviour or body language, it gives you new information. It saves time because rather than initiating an argument. You immediately know what they want. If you can find out their “why” it will allow you to understand their motivation for not wanting to do what you are asking.

3. Use active listening and be a mirror.

Demonstrate empathy by using the “mirror” technique. This requires you to repeat their last three words or keywords. People find comfort in similarity.

4. How?

“How am I supposed to do that?” or “How can we solve this problem?” You get to disagree with them without saying “no”. Then allow them to throw up suggestions until one comes up that you like and respond with, “that was a brilliant idea.” It’s a lot easier to implement an idea when it is their idea!

If they need some prompting

Ask a “no” oriented question. “Are you against this option?” or “Is now a bad time?” This gives them an emotional way out. Are they fearing something? Fear of loss is one of the main motivating factors of human behaviour. Make sure that you pause and allow them to answer.

Example Scenario

It is time for a bath/shower and your child does not want to.

Usually, we might respond with, “You have too!” and will be met with an even fiercer, “No!” If we remain calm and you could say, “It seems like you have something else you would like to do?”

They might reply with, “I want to keep playing.”

You now have the information that you might need during this negotiation process, but can start off by replying with, “How am I supposed to let you keep playing?”

“I can play for two more minutes and then have a shower.”

You reply with, “That sounds like a brilliant idea!”

If they do not come up with an appropriate option, you could use a “no” oriented question like, “Do you want to go to bed dirty?” or “Is now a bad time to shower?”

Think about this quote from Bernie Shakeshaft, from Backtrack Boys, “When things go pear-shaped, what were the persons good intentions? What are the good intentions behind their bad behaviour? 

For more info on Chris Voss’ techniques check out the following links:

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