SMOTHERING: ART OF THE DEAL

Published March 11, 2018

I slid one M&M across the table.

My rival, strapped in his booster seat, calmly glanced at it and then raised four grubby fingers.

“F’ive!” he ordered.

Learning the art of negotiation and manipulation to deal with a smarty-pants toddler

Teach him to count, they had said, it’ll be fun. After more back and forth, and one meltdown, we settled on five M&Ms. For breakfast. Yep, fun.

Consider a baby’s adorable, throaty cooing and gurgling the calm before the storm because once they’ve crossed the 12-month mark, karma struts in, head held high, ready to set order to the universe and wanting things done ‘his way.’ Drowsy and overstimulated, the little mutineer is now fully aware on how to get his point across — by screaming ‘NO’ repeatedly at a high C pitch which, by the way, is very effective.

Sudden and fierce like a summer storm, he is also determined not to go down without a fight. Unless it happens to be in a public setting (in which case, he will pull out his trump card and lie flat on the floor to prove his point and thereby win the argument even before you can present your case). Classic kid move.

I had long abandoned the murky waters of the corporate world, traded the kitten heels for comfier flip flops and embraced life in pyjamas and sweatpants to proudly steer this vessel through uncharted waters as captain. But now, as we marched into toddlerhood and realised the concept of ‘self’, mutiny arose and the playroom became the boardroom.

Remnants of my former life resurfaced. Meetings were held and adjourned, winning sales pitches presented and rejected, and talks coming to a standstill with no substantial advances made after the infinite rounds of negotiation.

Opening skirmishes ensued. I won — a few. Admittedly because I was armed with a regiment of sugar-coated goodies and that was the offspring’s Achilles heel.

There was a brief bribe-free window and desperation led me to seek wisdom from the all-knowing experts in cyberspace. Articles on ‘The Art of Negotiating — A Practical Guide to Getting What You Want, When You Want It’ popped up, with advice like, “Remember that you’re not

just creating an agreement, you’re cultivating a long-term relationship.”

Sorry, BabyCentre, but the Entrepreneur definitely got this one.

I rolled up my sleeves, unearthed, and dusted my dog-eared Philip Kotler (American marketing author) and took notes from Harvey Spectre (Suits character) and Denny Crane (Boston Legal lawyer).

Then tasked with renegotiation, I implemented my learnings:

The first rule if you want to make the sale: Oversell. Toddlers love a dramatic sales pitch, so there is no such thing as going overboard when you’re persuading them to change into a clean T-shirt, so they can look human and presentable. Feel free to throw in magical powers, supernatural strength and everything crazy into the mix. The rule of thumb in this case is: whatever works.

The first rule if you want to make the sale: Oversell. Toddlers love a dramatic sales pitch, so there is no such thing as going overboard when you’re persuading them to change into a clean T-shirt, so they can look human and presentable. Feel free to throw in magical powers, supernatural strength and everything crazy into the mix. The rule of thumb in this case is: whatever works.

Once you’ve mastered and over-killed the art of persuasion to the point that it doesn’t work anymore, move on to the ‘bait and switch’ approach.

If you see your toddler performing dangerous stunts with what was once an innocent toy, bait and switch. And then, bait and switch again, because the alternate toy was equally noisy and also had the potential to knock an eye out. Feels a little low-ball and deceitful at first, but once you get the hang of it, it has the power to alter the results of life-threatening, migraine-inducing situations. So, win-win.

Always remember that the party least rattled by the environmental stressors tends to negotiate the most carefully and deliberately — and often strikes the best deals. So in case of tantrums in public settings, such as an aisle at the supermarket, remain calm, maintain eye contact, and remember, they can smell fear.

In extreme cases, outsourcing may feel like a cop-out, but it’s a frequent practice and one that yields favourable results fast. Remember to keep your phone close, and your pixelated saviours even closer.

Dump the ‘wait-till-your-father-gets-home’ pass. It’s outdated and so last century. You’re stuck being the bad cop, and some things, like the damaging fingerprints in your NARS eyeshadow palette, can never be undone.

There will be days when your opponent will whip out his trump card: puppy dog eyes, lip quivering. Be flexible and let him win this one. Be generous, and throw in a few M&M’s for good measure. Those colourful chips are the cryptocurrency of tomorrow. If it’s unreasonable and can’t be done, make him an offer he can’t refuse: ice cream. Equally messy but far more effective than Vito Caroleone’s.

Published in Dawn, EOS, March 11th, 2018

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