Our Inclusion Working Group (IWG) surprised me a few weeks ago with an invite to participate on a panel called, “Influence and Decision Making,” during Flatiron’s first ever internal women’s event. Outside of the panel, the event also featured workshops, networking opportunities and another rendition of Marta Bralic Kern’s fantastic talk at Grace Hopper called, “Managing Your Career like a Business”.
During the panel, a lot of the questions centered around negotiations: “What was your most successful negotiation?”, “What makes you a good negotiator?” and “What is one piece of advice that you received that makes you a more effective influencer and negotiator?”
That day, on a bike ride home to take my four-year-old to the pool (for which a negotiation precedes every time, “No mommy, I don’t feel like going today”), it dawned on me: negotiating on a daily basis with my three boys is often more difficult than any negotiation in my career.
It was then that I remembered a rainy morning last fall when I desperately tried to pull a pair of Thomas the Tank EngineTM rain boots on my toddler’s feet as he was kicking and screaming under the looming arm of the speeding clock.
Nothing seemed to be working. He did not want to put those rain boots on, despite the miserable October storm outdoors. I started on a high note explaining to him how important it is to stay healthy this month, and that his feet will get wet in the 45-degree downpour. I reminded him how much he wanted those boots when we passed by a shoe store the month before. I even remembered that he complained that the boots were too big last time he wore them and fetched a pair of extra thick socks to make them fit a little better. Finally, after resorting to bribing and raising my voice in a desperate attempt to try to make that 9:30 AM team meeting, I slumped down next to him on a doormat, both of us sobbing loudly.
My husband, who had just finished packing the kids’ lunches, asked me, “Did you ask him WHY? Why he didn’t want to put his rain boots on?”…..Um, no, I hadn’t. I made assumptions about his motivations, I based them off valid observations about past occurrences (complaints of shoes being too large) and his character (he loves being difficult because that draws all the attention to him), but I never really asked him why, in this instance, he didn’t want to wear the rain boots. Turns out he wore his blue striped shirt AND striped pants today and didn’t feel that the Thomas the Tank EngineTM rain boots fit with his outfit. We rushed upstairs and picked out a blue shirt that worked better with the damn boots.
When negotiating or trying to influence others we frequently make assumptions about what motivates our opponent; we assume they are driven by cost, time or prestige based on what we have already observed about them and our past experiences working with them. But, just like a toddler, our challenger frequently surprises us with their motivation. When you finally do ask that question, in a non-combative, inquisitive manner and actually listen to the answer, you might be able to arrive at an unexpected solution that fits everyone’s needs. Why wouldn’t you use this platform tool? Why can’t you spare a sprint and work with us on X? I catch myself stopping to think halfway through the conversation, and ask myself: am I making an assumption here, or did I really hear them say, “I think working on this other project is more important for my team morale”?
For Flatiron’s internal women’s event, I got up on that stage alongside some amazing Flatiron women that I deeply admire and we talked about a myriad of things: getting your point of view heard, managing up, making difficult decisions, negotiating. Now I can finally answer the question, “What was your most successful negotiation?” Well, I got those rain boots on my boys’ feet. It wasn’t a negotiation related to work, but it certainly helped me realize what I could do to be a better negotiator in my job. And today, as I negotiate with my crew on who is cleaning up dishes, I’ll take a few mental notes that will hopefully make me a better leader tomorrow.