Negotiate Like The Mouse In The Gruffalo


I’m a dad. Iona is our daughter and we get introduced to all wonders of books and surprises. One of the favourites whilst we were on holiday was listening to the tales of the Gruffalo. It tells the story of a mouse who’s walking in a forrest and meets a series of animals who want to eat the mouse. The mouses response on being invited into their territory is to state:

‘It’s awfully kind of you Owl but no! I’m having lunch with a Gruffalo.’

I think there’s a lot we can learn from this simple sentence.

In a conversation are you clear and concise? Are you clear in your communication, confidently stating your opinion? Or out of fear of offending, do you ramble on creating confusion for your listener, and allowing them to direct you where you don’t want to go.

Sometimes it’s better to be straight to the point. ‘It’s awfully kind of you but no.’

Imagine you and a colleague are travelling to a day’s conference for work. You plan to get the train by yourself because you know you’ve work to get completed, and you planned a night out with your wife. Your colleague has different ideas and offers you a lift in his car. He makes it clear he’s happy to do this (providing you split the petrol), and that you’ll need to stop for a breakfast meeting he has with someone on the M1. He says he’ll pick you up from your house at 7.

You’re on the spot but you want to be clear and concise and say, ”That’s awfully kind of you, Jim, but no…. I’m getting the train to finish some work and I’ll see you there.”

However, you’re worried he may take offence, that you’d seem rude or ungrateful. And far from being clear and concise you even fail to complete your sentence:

“That’s very kind; I mean, I was kind of thinking of hopping on a train. I guess, I mean, I’m not sure what….”.

To which he interjects, “Oh don’t worry about it. I’ll save you the money and hassle of all that by driving us both.”

“Yes, yes I see, well I suppose… I don’t want to put you out and get you caught in rush hour because it’s a bit of a detour for you”.

To which he replies, “It’s no bother, I’ll see you at 7 to avoid the traffic, I’d be happy to help you out. See you tomorrow.”

If we don’t live our dreams intentionally, we live other people’s dreams and our lives are in tension. (Tweet this quote)

Communication is at the heart of that.

Backed into a corner, the following morning you get into his car at 7. The train journey is lost, you’re stressed out during the day, and you have to do the work later when you return home. As well as being annoyed about being stuck in a pointless breakfast meeting, you felt pressured into the shared car journey and resent him as a result.

Your wife is suitably unimpressed that evening when you tell her that some emergency work has cropped up, and you’re not able to go out together. All in all, not being able to be clear and concise has well and truly messed things up.

How many times have you been caught out by someone who can talk circles around you?

If you get advance warning of a potentially awkward situation in the future and you find it hard to speak straight, practice your responses out loud. Think about the words you use. Are they clear and concise? Hear the full sentence to the end of the statement.  Visualise the importance of not being interrupted, and being able to confidently finish what you had to say. And if you’re stuck on an easy initial line, remember the Gruffalo.

Simple and obvious as it seems; there are so so many negotiations that are won or lost by this communicational flaw. When someone shows a sense of weakness, those who want to exploit it can do and will do. With practice you’ll feel assured about the words you use, will realise you’re not being rude, and will have more confidence that it will come out right.

Then you may feel like you’re not going to get steamrolled into decisions you later resent. Just make sure when you get good at it, you don’t abuse your new found communication confidence at the expense of others.

In the Gruffalo, a tiny mouse was able to withstand the threats of being eaten by larger animals with the confidence of this communication.

How do you ensure you don’t get boxed into decisions you don’t want? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.


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