It was Thanksgiving Day. My daughter wanted apple pie and asked her mother to get it for her. My brother-in-law noted that he had read some parenting advice from Esther Wojcicki that suggested children should be encouraged to do whatever they can for themselves.
As Wojcicki had raised two CEOs and a doctor, the joke became – future CEOs get their own pie.
For the next three hours, no one budged. My daughter was threatening to not go to bed until she got her pie. My wife refused to give in.
There were attempts to negotiate. Other people offered to get the pie. But the offers were refused. A threat to get the pie but have it be just the tiniest of slivers were rebuffed.
Eventually, after most people had gone home, my wife made her move. She cut the pie but did not bring it to her, instead leaving it on the kitchen table. So technically she did not bring her the pie.
My immediate response was frustration. What started off as something silly had turned into what I perceived as my daughter’s stubbornness winning – reinforcing a behavior we’d like to see less of.
I read the situation as a failed negotiation which my wife had lost. But upon further reflection and a little bit of research, I realized that I had completely misread the situation.
I looked up the definition of “negotiate.” It means simply to “find a way over or through (an obstacle or difficult path).” or “try to reach an agreement or compromise by discussion with others.”
Nowhere in the definition does it imply that negotiating is about “winning or losing.” Yet for many that has become the ultimate goal of any negotiation.
To ask who won or lost is shortsighted. If the goal is “to find a way” or “to reach an agreement” then why would we want any negotiation to end with one side holding ill will?
In labor disputes, like the one I’m currently involved in, I hear language that talks about keeping up the fight, or “we have to win this,” sides cast aspersions saying the other side is evil or assuming the worst intentions of every move.
What gets lost in this vitriol is the purpose. To come to an agreement that all parties can feel good about.
Both my wife and daughter wanted to be happy. No one wanted to end Thanksgiving with a fight.
So my daughter got her pie, but still had to get up to go get it. Everyone got a little of what they wanted.
Sometimes in a negotiation, we simply need to take a step back and ask ourselves, “what would make both sides happy?” Instead of “how can I win this negotiation” wonder “how do we find a way through this that both sides can feel good about?”