Negotiating Advice from a 5-Year-Old


I know exactly how he feels

Growing up I was never really taught negotiation. My parents would maybe haggle with some guy at the flea market, I mean, farmers’ market over oranges but aside from that, not really. It wasn’t until after college when I noticed that negotiating your salary was an important part of your career.

Since then, I’ve read all the books and taken courses to grow that negotiation skill. As a parent, I try to negotiate as often as possible and let my kids learn and grow that skill in themselves.

Today I’m going to tell you about my 5-year old daughter Sophie. Although she hasn’t taken any negotiation courses (yet), she has been known to walk into my office during a negotiation coaching call every once in awhile. I’m sure she’s picked a tactic or two during these calls that she applies to her day to day.

Sometimes she amazes me at how well she approaches negotiations for the things that she wants. I even call her my “Little Negotiator” since it’s almost like she’s a natural at it.

Of course, I know that’s not true. Negotiation is a skill you can learn and improve on. Today I’m going to show you two negotiation tactics that you can use when you’re at the negotiation table.

They’re so easy, even a 5-year-old can (and does) use them.

1) Give yourself some wiggle room

Sometimes when we go into a negotiation, we ask exactly what we want. We figure that if we are upfront, the other side will agree to our terms and give it to us. However, this can be a mistake since a negotiation is a give and take. If you’re not willing to give in on some of the things you want and get more of some other things, your negotiation may not get very far or be very successful.

This is a typical Saturday afternoon topic at our house:

Sophie: “Can I have 3 M&Ms?”

Me: “No. That’s too many. You can have just one.”

Sophie: “Ok!”

Me (mumbling to myself): “Damn. She got me again”

                 Artist rendering of Sophie

               Artist rendering of Sophie

In our example above, Sophie never really wanted 3 M&Ms. She would have been very happy if she got 3, however, what she really wanted was just one. She knew that if she gave herself some wiggle room, she could give up some of it and get exactly what she was looking for.

The serial entrepreneur James Altucher, who has negotiated millions of dollars multiple times, argues that the person who has the biggest list of things they want wins. If you have a big list, then you can “give up the nickels for the dimes”. Giving yourself that wiggle room where you can give up some of the smaller things in exchange for bigger ones will set you up for a successful negotiation.

2) Ask by telling the other person how they’ll benefit

Sophie, like most kids, tries everything she can to stay past her bedtime. Whether it’s trying to find her favorite stuffed animal, making sure there aren’t any wrinkles on her sheets, or reading a bedtime story, she’ll try to come up with any excuse to not sleep and in turn, not let me sleep.

This conversation happened recently:

Sophie: Can you read me a bedtime story?

Me: No.

Sophie: If you read me a bedtime story, I will sleep better.

Me: No.

Sophie: If you read me a bedtime story, I will sleep better. If I sleep better I won’t have to call you at night and YOU can sleep better.

Me: What book do you want me to read?

Sometimes when we think about negotiating, we focus on what we want. Bigger salary, more days off, a better parking spot. And yet, we forget that the easiest way to get these things is by making a business case where you show the benefits THEY get from giving you what you want.

This reminds me of a recent client I coached through a salary negotiation. As an inexperienced negotiator, his plan was to ask for a $10k increase because “he deserved it and it would make him a happier employee”.


Although I love my daughter and I want her to get the best sleep possible, if it comes between me reading her a story and me getting an extra 5 minutes of sleep, daddy’s head on pillow will almost always win.

Same for my client. I’m sure his new boss wants him to be happy. But if it comes down to the employee being happy and the company saving $5k, it’s likely the $5k in the company’s pocket will win.

So instead, we came up with a list of benefits the employer would get if he hired my client. Amongst them was the fact that my client had a very close relationship with 3 potential clients his new employer had been trying to get in touch with for months. One call from my client would secure a face to face and possibly a big fat contract for his new boss.

So the conversation went from “If you give me $10k, I will be a happier employee” to “If you give me $10k, I will give you a meeting with a $500k client”.

Let’s look at Sophie’s negotiation again.

Will you read me a story? = I want a bigger salary

Answer: No

If you read me a story, I will sleep better = If you pay me more, I will be a better employee

Answer: No

Read me a little story and YOU get to sleep ALL NIGHT! = If you give me $10k, YOU will get $500k!

Answer: Yes

Now that you know these two approaches, practice them. Negotiating is a skill that can be acquired and developed with practice. The more you practice the better you’ll get at it. If a 5-year-old can do it, then you can too!

Ramon Santillan

Interview Consultant, Hiring Expert, and Social Researcher

Ramon Santillan is the founder of  Before he was an Interview Consultant, he was a tax consultant for the world’s biggest accounting firm, the world’s biggest oil driller, and the founder of his own tax practice.

Ramon teaches his clients how to be more charismatic, feel (and look) more confident, and shows them the right way to “brag” about themselves during interviews.  He has been quoted by U.S. News & World Report, CBS, Yahoo!,, Chicago Tribune and many others as an interviewing expert.

His clients think he’s pretty great.  He tends to agree. Ramon is a graduate from the UT’s Red McCombs School of Business, a graduate from the FBI’s Citizen Academy, a Certified Corporate Trainer, has been Historian, Vice President, and President for the ALPFA Houston Chapter, husband of one, father of two, and friend of many. He loves reading and consistently reads between 48-52 books a year.  Tell him about your favorite book and he’ll add it to his Amazon Wishlist.

Ramon also enjoys writing about himself in the 3rd person.  He thinks it’s fun.

For more detailed steps on perfecting your interview answers, make sure to get Ramon’s book: Big 4 Interview Questions: Why the Answer matters more than the Question.