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Helen Gough Hall ’70 on win-win negotiations


Mike Kilen


Helen Gough Hall ’70 realized she had succeeded as a parent teaching the subtle art of mastering win-win negotiations when she watched her teen-age daughter relate to a group of children she was baby-sitting.

They were deciding where to eat. One wanted McDonald’s, another Wendy’s, and so on. Her daughter came up with a plan. Eat a hamburger here, dessert there. Everyone was happy.

“If you are always butting heads, you learn disrespect that way,” says Hall, a San Antonio nurse practitioner who has taught parenting courses (and trained teachers nationally) for 20 years and wrote a parenting guide. “Give them choices within limits. That teaches the value of respect.”

Her daughter passed along to another generation of children the value that other’s preferences, as well as their own, are important and can easily be considered with a little creativity and a goal of win-win. Offering choices instead of issuing orders reduces unnecessary power struggles and battles, she writes in Redirecting: Parenting Guidelines (International Network for Children and Families, 1992). Creating a choice places the focus on the fact they have a voice in the process, rather than an order from a higher authority. This also helps them realize that what happens to them relates to their decisions—good and bad.

It’s important to maintain a democratic atmosphere. Make sure your child’s voice is heard when making those decisions, where possible. Don’t operate out of the belief that you are the adult and the child must suffer in order to learn. Show respect for their opinions and their person.

Teach that fighting is an ineffective way to solve problems. Show them the painful results of fighting, vs. how their problem-solving helped them both win. If the disagreement is between siblings, stay out of the fight. Getting involved robs them of learning the lessons of negotiations.

Yet it’s important to teach children how to share without giving up themselves, Hall writes. Teaching them to take care of themselves while sharing and giving to others is part of the art of negotiation.

(Hall comes from a family of Cornellians: her brother, Chuck Gough ’69; her parents, Margaret Hedges Gough ’38 and the late Vincent Gough ’37; her late grandparents, Helen Lydia Hopkins Hedges ’13 and Charles E. Hedges ’12—who was secretary of the Board of Trustees and for whom Hedges Conference Room is named; and aunts and uncles.)

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