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How to negotiate with your teen

If you've been following me for a while, you'll know that I specialise in business negotiations. Despite this, one of the most common questions I get asked in my training workshops is “How do I negotiate better with my children?”

If your child happens to be a 2 year old, I'm afraid there's not much I can do to assist. Even the Harvard experts don't recommend negotiating with terrorists and children! However, if your child is a teenager there are definitely things you can do to help improve the quality of the conversations you have and, in turn, strengthen the relationship you have with your teen. You’ll also help them to become better negotiators in the future.

Understanding the teenage brain

The first thing to understand is that the teenage brain operates differently to the adult brain. The teenage years are an immense time of growth and development for the brain. While in childhood the brain is very much a sponge and absorbs all sorts of information, the teenage years are a period of organising and cleaning up all of that information. There is a lot of synaptic pruning going on which removes some of the information that isn't considered necessary or useful.

The last part of the teen brain to develop is the prefrontal cortex, which is where rational thought happens. So, if you feel like your teen is behaving illogically or irrationally, there's a pretty good reason for that.

Despite this busy period of brain development there are several things you can do to ensure better quality conversations with your teen.

1. Be clear on the negotiables

There will be some things that you are willing to negotiate with your teen. Other things are non-negotiable. In my house, this includes using deodorant, eating a piece of fruit every day and cleaning their teeth twice a day!

It is important to be clear up front so your teen knows when things are non-negotiable and when it is appropriate to try to negotiate outcomes. Many troubles arise as a result of mismatched expectations. Setting those expectations avoids trouble.

2. Listen to them

It is essential that your teen feels heard. One of the largest problems in all negotiations is that we assume we know where the other side is coming from, how they feel and what they want. We jump to a decision very quickly based around those assumptions. We either don’t give the other person a change to share their perspective or don’t listen carefully because we already believe we understand them.

Even when your assumptions are correct, it is important to give your teen the opportunity to express their perspective on what's being negotiated. If your teen feels you have ignored their perspective, they will feel resentful, frustrated or angry – or perhaps all three! And they will behave accordingly!

3. Give them choices

All humans are designed to want autonomy, or control over their own choices in life. This is equally so for your teen. By giving them limited choices rather than a solitary option, they are empowered in some degree. This will help them to feel more comfortable with the process.

For example, your teen may want to go out with friends but you know they have homework to do. You might give them a choice. “Either you can do half an hour of homework now and then you can go out until 6pm and finish the homework when you come back OR you can go out now and I’ll pick you up at 4pm so you can get your homework done.”

4. Involve them in the consequences

One of the risks of negotiating with a teen is that, even though we have an agreement, they will ignore that agreement and do what they want regardless. As part of the negotiation process it can help to discuss what happens if they don't keep their side of the bargain. Involve your teen in determining what the consequences will be if they stray from the agreement. And hold them to those consequences.

The good news is that teens won’t be teens forever and their pre-frontal cortexes will eventually mature. In the meantime, enjoy the ride and apply these tips to make the journey a little smoother.

For more information about how to improve your negotiations have a look at Negotiation from A to Z: 26 tips to improve every negotiation - available now on Amazon.

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