Monday, 16 April 2012

A bit of give and take - the art of negotiating with the enemy

This is a guest post from Ben Wakeling, author of Goodbye, Pert Breasts.

My day job is as a Quantity Surveyor for a housebuilding company, and yes, I have been known to count bricks, before you ask.


A lot of my time, though, is taken up with negotiation – usually over price. Numbers get flung around like poo in a monkey enclosure, things are conceded and gained, and every now and again voices become raised. I’ve come up against novice negotiators, those with decades of experience, and discussions can last from an hour to a month before a decision is finally made.

Lately, though, I’ve come up against a tougher negotiator than even the most seasoned pro. 
His name is Isaac, and he’s 3 years old. He also likes to wear pants on his head.

Isaac has mastered the art of saying ‘No’. Whilst adults negotiating and bartering will at least give you something to work on, Isaac will simply point blank refuse to do something if he doesn’t fancy it.

“Isaac, eat your sandwich.”


This refusal is illustrated with a frown so strong you can barely see his eyes under accumulated rolls of forehead fat.

“Isaac, please eat your sandwich.”


My face, on the other hand, is largely expressionless, like Keanu Reeves or Steven Seagal. I don’t want to show that he’s winding me up: I don’t raise my voice, just make it a bit sterner.

“Isaac, please eat your sandwich now.”



Suddenly, you find yourself in a negotiation where your chances of getting everything you want are pretty much non-existent, much like Cheryl Cole’s chances of making it big in America. And so, it goes down to half a sandwich, then a quarter, each concession met with the same response. You know he needs to eat the sandwich to flipping survive. All he knows is that he’d rather watch Peppa Pig and do that thing where he scratches his backside for ages.

Parents are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to negotiating with their child. If you throw up your hands, say ‘Fine!’ and let him have his way, he knows he can beat you every time. Plus, it means that you suck at discipline. On the other hand, you don’t want things to descend into a full-blown slanging match – not that you’d swear at your children, of course.

"Potty mouth!"

So what can you do? Your only option, really, is to stick to your guns. You will, invariably, have to make some concessions, but as long as he eats most of his sandwich then you can chill. Isaac’s at the age where he’s constantly pushing boundaries to see what he can get away with, so as long as I continue to show him who’s boss (in a nice way, i.e. no whipping/caning/detention involved) he’ll probably turn out to be OK. At least, I hope so. If he turns out like me, he’s screwed.


  1. Great post - I am sure that if kids were parachuted in to lead the negotiations in the Arab-Israeli peace talks peace would have broken out long ago ...... or maybe not, actually its a probably a good thing they havent got anywhere near those sensitive talks. Enjoying the blog as well from a brand new blogger at

    1. Thanks, it's a great post, isn't it? Glad you like the blog. Please come back soon and join in.

  2. It's so true, I've never met anyone tougher to negotiate with than a child

  3. As a child photographer I am constantly working with children from newborns to teenagers, and so learning to negotiate with them is crucial to my success.

    One of the things I have learned is that the younger ones are smarter than we think, and if you can engage them without distractions it is not too hard to get them to understand what you would like - but you need to be quick about it because their attention span is short!


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