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Playground Lessons Not to Follow in Business Negotiations


We were all taught basic playground etiquette growing up. These life-lessons aimed to keep us out of trouble and provided us with some basic rules about respect and how to resolve conflict.

However, when it comes to achieving business success, playground lessons don’t always apply. Negotiation skills, such as those taught in the best negotiation skills training, must now replace the old playground tactics. While you can still maintain friends in business, as you could at school, it is smart to prioritize the best negotiation strategy while considering consequences and foreseeing outcomes.

Here are five playground lessons that do not apply when negotiating -- and the new counter-lessons you can use to ensure negotiation success.

Playground Lesson #1: Share your toys and let others go first.

Being polite, open, and generous has always been a brilliant way to win people over, make new friends, and establish yourself as a good example. However, an over-accommodating attitude could be your downfall when you are doing business. Skilled negotiators know when to be accommodating. It is important to know and understand when you need to take some risk by giving. The most feared are competitive negotiators who may abuse or take advantage of the “sharing is caring” playground adage, by not playing ‘fair’. Competitive negotiators only look out for themselves though often charming on the surface.

The best negotiations seminars will teach you the importance of flexibly responding to the other negotiator’s styles. Accommodating styles may serve in some situations, and it is critical to remember that you have access to an array of negotiation tools, which may include more self-focused tactics. In the competitive world of business, if you always allow others to decide the next step, your turn might never come. You risk not getting your toys back, either.

Playground Lesson #2: Treat others as you want them to treat you.

This golden rule usually serves us well. If we begin our negotiations with the intention of treating the client or customer in a way that we would like them to treat us in return, we may assume that the client will reciprocate. If only this was true.

In the complex world of business, we can never assume anything about the values and standards of the opposite party. If you are not already well-acquainted with the client or colleague, it’s best to apply the platinum rule instead:

Do unto others as they would like you to do unto them.”

Everyone is different. You gain no points by thinking about what you would want in their shoes.  You will have much more success thinking about what the other party wants. Invest in a strong relationship by giving yourself time to discover how the other negotiator likes to be rewarded. Find out what the person’s top goals are, then see if you can find a way to meet them, while still satisfying your own needs.

Read about perspective taking here.

Playground Lesson #3: Speak out when you’re unhappy.

Many cultures and business environments, such as in Holland for example, value direct and open communication when it comes to negotiating. If you’re unhappy with the way the negotiations are going, it’s acceptable to speak up and let the other person know.

However, as many negotiation trainers advise, you need to be careful not to be over-confrontational about your misgivings. An outburst or a stinging criticism of the process could bruise the client’s feelings and disrupt further negotiations. Diplomacy is central to a successful negotiation strategy, especially if you are working in a culture where people express personal apprehensions or doubts more indirectly. If you have to express concerns, take a balanced, moderated approach to communicate any doubts about the process.

Playground Lesson #4: If you want something, just ask for it.

Declaring your intentions is not always the best policy - at least, not right off the bat. Before you lay out all your hopes and demands, it is important to test the negotiating ground and establish a firm understanding of what makes your client or customer tick. Laying all your cards on the table at once can work against you, and the best negotiators should aim to unpeel the layers to reach a shared understanding at the same pace as everyone else involved. Instead of asking for what you want straight away, aim to trade information. See this exchange as part of the negotiation process.

Playground Lesson #5: If someone treats you badly, report them to a teacher.

In business, no one is looking out for you except yourself. You need to have the ability to fight your own battles. Unfortunately, colleagues, vendors and clients are rarely held accountable for minor misconduct (unless they’re breaking the law, of course!) when they treat you badly. Sometimes this means toughening up and meeting bad treatment with a mature, considered response. Don’t be tempted to report everything to the manager, who likely won’t be impressed with having the new burden of acting as a referee. Take the initiative to stand up for yourself in negotiations.


Negotiation classes help individuals work on rewiring the lessons learned as a kid on the playground to improve business negotiation results. Stay alert and avoid those situations where you can be easily taken advantage of and know when the lessons you learned on the playground will serve you well -- and when it’s best to adopt a new set of negotiation norms.


  • Be flexible and respond to the other negotiators’ styles.
  • Listen and learn what the person’s top goals are. Find a way to meet them, while still satisfying your own needs.
  • If you have to express concerns, take a balanced, moderated approach to communicate any doubts about the process.
  • Instead of asking for what you want straight away, consider how you can trade information for a win-win.
  • Don’t be tempted to report everything to the manager. Take the initiative to stand up for yourself in negotiations.

About the Author

Milena Gallo is from the Global Negotiation Training Innovators. The Negotiation Experts enable teams to drive measurable profit improvements that last long after negotiation interventions.

Topics: Sales Business Culture Negotiation