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Kids Eat Free

Ben Byth
Kids Eat Free In Negotiation

Oh no, I broke my own rule - pay attention to your counterpart’s behavior and adapt! 

Recently on a family holiday we sat down for lunch and the waiter asked us where we were staying. A seemingly strange question, so I asked why? They responded: “Because if you are staying here, your kids eat free!”. Unfortunately, we were staying elsewhere and I’m too honest to lie… but they said, “Don’t worry, I’ll put it through for free anyway”. I graciously replied, “Thank you!”.  

So, what had I learned? This waiter was prepared to make concessions! 

Not long after, we decided to order some drinks and I caught the attention of the closest waiter (not the initial waiter I had spoken to). They also asked me, “Where are you staying?” and no sooner were the words out of my mouth was I trying to pull them back in.  

The previous waiter had put our kid’s food through for free, and they were about to find out that it shouldn’t have been.  

What had I missed? Incorporating that learning into my own behavior, tactics and strategy!  

By inviting a new waiter over to our table, I was now faced with a dilemma: 

  1. Do I lie to protect the waiter that gave us free food, and hope they don’t ask for a room number? 
  2. Do I tell the truth, risk getting the other waiter in trouble and potentially lose free food?  

The predicament I was in was easily avoided if I had not only been paying attention to my counterpart’s behavior… but also adapted my plan in response to it. Knowing that the first waiter was flexible around the kid’s food, if I was going to accept it, the better decision tactically thereafter would have been to try and stick to the same waiter (not invite a new one over)!  

The same is often true for negotiations.  

If we pay attention to our counterpart and their behavior we will observe flexibilities, sources of power, how they react to different tactics, and so on. This should in turn influence our own behavior at the table.  

For example, a number of things I’ve noticed recently that influenced my negotiating plan include: 

Observation: A supplier manager was more willing to make concessions than their salesperson. 

Action: Manufacture escalation to management so we receive more concessions. 

Observation: A supplier who wasn’t prepared to explain a price rise dropped it entirely.  

Action: Make a note for the next price rise cycle to roll out the question again! 

Observation: A client’s procurement function was challenging requests to process invoices at EOFY to determine if it was about spending budget or satisfying a legitimate need.  

Action: Make a note for next year that EOFY spend is going to be scrutinized and coach the factory manager accordingly to increase the likelihood of getting spend over the line.  

To summarise, in your future negotiations, do not forget to pay attention to your counterparts behavior and adjust your plan accordingly! 

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