Why Don’t Schools Teach Negotiation as a Critical Life Skill?

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No one throughout their schooling career ever gets taught negotiation or broad-level communication skills. They’re not taught how to negotiate, have civil conversations, or advocate for their own needs. The conspiracy theorist in me questions why the school system is structured this way. Negotiation and conflict resolution should be a focus as early as possible in a child’s life. Why? Because conflict costs billions of dollars a year. Conflicts in organizations are expensive.

Why the general population is uncomfortable with conflict

Children, teenagers, and adults need to learn how to express what they want and make a logical argument for why they should get it. It will help them so much more than getting upset or avoiding the topic when they’re told “no.” Jean-Nicolas Reyt thinks one of the main reasons these things aren’t taught is because 70% of the population is uncomfortable with conflicting and incompatible goals—AKA conflict.

The general population has internalized that the only way forward is compliance and to do what you’re told. But it doesn’t work. If you comply instead of asking for what you want, you’re not doing your work as a negotiator. You’re not doing the work of reducing conflict. You are letting it foster. People who comply with whatever they’re told are not happy about it. They harbor regrets.

Compliance should never be the goal

Jean points out that when people say, “yes,” it doesn’t mean they’re on board. Some people say yes to make the problem go away. But they have no clue how to deal with it. Jean will ask students for feedback, and some will throw out ideas. But many send him an idea by email later because they were worried about retaliation or looking stupid. In his opinion, if you have something to ask and do it assertively and politely, there shouldn’t be anything wrong with it.

As a parent, you need compliance from your children at certain times. But you also need to teach them to question things. So if I tell my child, “You need to do this,” and they say, “Why?” It forces me to explain why they need to do something. They need to logically figure out if it aligns with what they need or want.

But the traditional school system was never designed to train independent thinkers. It was created to train factory workers. It was never intended for independent thought; it was designed to create compliance.

Learn how to convince someone—not force them to comply

Jean notes that creating independent thought is a skill on its own. The worst thing you can do when someone asks “why” is to say, “Because I said so.” People care a great deal about fairness. As a child, Jean was very non-compliant, always asking “why” and rarely doing what he was told. It wasn’t because he was a rebel but because if you wanted him to do something, you had to convince him first. From his perspective, forcing him to do something shows weakness. You won’t get buy-in. He won’t do a good job.

Jean always says, “You can negotiate anything with me; I just have to be convinced. If I’m convinced, I’ll do it. If I’m not convinced, I won’t do it.” Many people are okay with not getting what they want as long as they understand why it would be unfair for them to get it.

Learn more in episode #246 of the Negotiations Ninja podcast.