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How to Negotiate Change With Your Managers

It’s a simple strategy that kids use all the time to get what they want


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Jim Farina

2 years ago | 5 min read

They asked for a pig. What they really wanted was a snake…

Negotiate and Compromise Like a Kid

At one time, we had almost a dozen snakes in our house. We had corn snakes, several ball pythons, and a hognose, which I later found out was illegal in Illinois without proper certification.

My wife nor I was thrilled with the idea, but yet it happened. We approved it. It didn’t take me too long after the first snake came into our house that I realized we were outmaneuvered by a fourteen-year-old.

It is a brilliant tactic, really, and I’ve used it since to get some concessions approved and affecting changes to policies at work.

At that time, my daughter was really obsessed with pigs. She couldn’t get enough of them through YouTube videos. We thought it a cute obsession — that is until the day she approached us asking if we’d ever considered allowing her to have a teacup pig as a pet.

I believe she found a seller someplace. I’m almost certain that the Chicago suburb where we live is not zoned for such livestock. Even owning chickens in our village has been voted down time and again over the years.

What's more, though ‘teacup” pigs are adorably cute as babies, those little pink cuties can grow between 100 and 200 pounds as adults. There was no way. It was an absurd request.

Begin with the Absurd and Come Back with Something Less

We responded to the pig request with a non-negotiable, NO! It’s a response that no parent in their right mind would entertain.

Yes, there was a brief period of pouting. That obligatory stomping and that unnatural extension of the child’s lower lip. I believe it was their grandma, my wife’s mom, who used to quip, “You better pull that lip back in before a bird comes along and takes a perch there.”

But as they say, kids are resilient. She forgot about that teacup pig in a short time and moved onto some other young-teen distraction.

After some days passed, she came back again with a new request:

“Since you won’t let me have a pig, would you maybe consider letting me get a snake?”

I’ll spare you the continued discourse this revised request prompted between us. In the end, my wife and I agreed to the terms. I thought it could be educational.

Over time, however, the introduction of a single pet corn snake exploded into something much bigger. It happened so gradually. What’s the expression? “Like boiling a frog.”

This went way beyond casual pet ownership. Heaters, special lights, timers, scales, plastic lockdown bins slowly took up space in the basement.

Our freezer space began to get displaced with frozen rodents in various stages of maturity. Before long, live mice were being smuggled through our doors. This was now a reptile museum. I was living in a serpentarium.

Thinking about that whole episode — asking for something crazy and then following up with a lesser “compromise” was a brilliant strategy when I further considered the maneuver. So I repackaged it and brought it into my workplace.

We have a virtual suggestion box. Employees can submit ideas electronically and anonymously if they choose. I first submitted the idea of allowing our special summer hours schedule all year round.

The summer hours provision, effective from Memorial Day to Labor Day, allows employees to work an extra hour from Monday through Thursday and then work from 8:00 to noon on Friday.

This makes for a lengthier weekend while cutting back on power usage. This was not mandatory but an optional benefit, providing your department was covered and work wrapped up.

I proposed the year-round summer hours schedule knowing full well it would be laughed at and rejected. And it was. I let it rest for a reasonable amount of time, maybe a week or so.

I then submitted something more realistic. I suggested flex hours. An employee can choose their start time — 8:00, 9:00, or 10:00 am. They would then finish their day at 4:00, 5:00, or 6:00 pm, respectively.

This was soon announced as a new benefit. It worked — I asked for the pig and followed up with a snake. It’s worked in various other scenarios since. Now for the big move. Pitching a 4-day workweek. The timing is ideal for striking (like a snake)

Our downtown, Chicago office space has been empty for just over a year. I should say, mostly empty, save for a few brave, essential workers, such as IT, accounting, and me. I handle product shipping and logistics. These jobs all have aspects that must be handled on-site.

Today, there’s a strong urging by the company owners to get us back to the workplace. Now that Covid vaccines become more available and positivity rates will hopefully decline, this seems an actual reality this year.

Most of our employees are doing well with remote working and business has done better than we hoped.

So why should we be in any big hurry to return to the office? If it’s working well, employees are happy, why go back? A big reason is a long-term lease that we’re bound to. It makes perfect sense for our company owners to encourage a return from pandemic exile.

Cost and time savings by not preparing for and commuting to the office has many advantages that are difficult to dispute. Imposing a mandatory return is inconsistent with our relaxed corporate culture.

It won’t bode well for managers or employees to be put in the position to force or feel forced to a full return. So what’s left to do?

Many companies will likely go to some form of hybrid home/onsite schedule after the covid situation is settled.

I need to get my pigs and snakes in a row now. Do I suggest a two or three-day workweek as my metaphorical pig? And the four-day workweek as the snake?

In any event, the timing seems ripe for this type of dialogue to unfold with employers. There are a few key things to remember when using this childlike strategy.

  • This approach is most effective when you are already in a respected position with your peers and those making the decisions. It’s beneficial to have a proven track record and have proposed ideas in the past, whether they’ve been rejected or not.
  • You’re not a child, so don’t act like one while in the negotiation process. Present a well-articulated plan. Be respectful and go through the proper channels and chain of leadership when outlining the terms.
  • As outlandish and far out your first pitch might be, it’s important to follow up with a reasonable compromise that works well for all parties involved.

If you’re an employee who’s already in good standing with the management and don’t come off as trying to be manipulative or pulling the wool over your managers' eyes — you can sometimes make a difference that everyone can get on board with.

You don’t want to end up being overrun with snakes in the end— or worse, get bitten in the ass.

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