20 things having twins taught me about negotiation


After years hashing out government deals, Clair Fisher thought she knew everything about negotiation. Then she had twins. She shares 20 things they’ve since taught her about getting what you want.

In my early career I worked alongside Government Ministers in Brussels on the negotiation of a European Treaty, and was pretty confident I knew everything there was to know about negotiation.

And then I had twins.

Since then, I’ve learned a LOT more about trying to find an acceptable common ground when negotiating with (potentially unreasonable) people. And to help you achieve the same without needing to actually have twins yourself, I’m sharing 20 of my best negotiation tips.

20 things having twins taught me about negotiation

So here they are – 20 things having twins taught me about negotiation. (If you’re applying these tips to a home scenario, assume that ‘your side’ is your partner, and ‘the other side’ are the kids!)

The basic principles of negotiation

  1. Keep it simple – if you get confused you’ve lost before you’ve begun.
  2. Get plenty of sleep – sleep deprivation does not help complex arguments.
  3. If you see a short cut, take it – don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.
  4. Learn (and teach) to share – it’s not a skill that comes naturally.
  5. Look for opportunities to build credit – negotiation is always based on relationship.

How to understand the motivation of the ‘other side’

  1. Everyone has their own idea about rewards, so work out what is motivating the other side.
  2. Sometimes it’s just not possible to share; you need to be able to deal with inequality.
  3. Divide and rule – deal with each individual as an individual.
  4. Having ‘one each’ rarely fixes the problem (one party just wants two).
  5. Remember to engage with the other side and ask what success would look like for them.

How to plan a strategy for ‘your side’

  1. You must have an agreed team plan for your side or the other side will out manoeuvre you.
  2. Negotiators are taught to identify their bottom line – you’ll be much happier if you lower your expectations early in the game!
  3. Remember to check in regularly with those on your side; you might need to adapt your strategy as you go, but avoid unilateral decisions where possible.
  4. Communicate clearly and with one voice. Don’t let the other side play you off against each other.
  5. Play the long game. Sometimes it’s better to concede defeat in one battle just to live to fight another day.

What to consider when it’s going wrong

  1. Check that everyone is well fed and watered.
  2. Consider a change of venue; getting outside can often break a deadlock.
  3. Do you need to apologise for something? Have you offended the other side in some way?
  4. Take time out. Restart.
  5. Is there another way? Always aim for win/win outcomes; sometimes you need a dash of creativity to come up with them.

If you’d like to read something much more serious about negotiations, I recommend The Truth about Negotiations by Leigh Thompson. This, and other reading recommendations, are available through the bookshop link on my website.

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