Eating win-win toast

By Graham Catt, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Veterinary Association

Changing behaviour is never easy, particularly when something’s always been done a certain way, or if people are used to getting their own way. However, each New Year brings with it a little window of opportunity to mix things up, to challenge the status quo and to adjust our behaviours in a positive way to carry throughout the year ahead.

Interestingly, a recent struggle around my dining room table drove home how valuable it is to leave room for flexibility and change, both with family and at work…

It looks like any piece of toast, two triangles spread with butter and honey. Look closer, however, and you’ll see one side is spread with honey and the other with butter.

This is ‘win-win toast’, a culinary invention born of a struggle with my five-year-old daughter. She’s a fussy eater and (when she wants to be) very stubborn. At some point she decided she no longer liked Vegemite, jam, peanut butter, avocado or any other spread she’d happily munched on over the years. Just butter.

Mum and dad, however weren’t having it. “You can’t just have toast with butter,” we announced, and as honey was the only spread still on the edible list, we insisted on honey.

At that point, we ran into stubborn. Attacking it head on, insisting that her toast had honey was received with a very blunt refusal to eat any toast at all, which was of course even worse than toast with butter.

Fortunately, before we all got too locked into a ‘toast stalemate’ she had a suggestion for us. “How about we put honey on one half and butter on the other?” Win-win toast was born, and became her standard breakfast request.

My daughter might be stubborn, but she intuitively understands an important concept…

When you take the time and trouble to understand what someone wants, a negotiated solution becomes possible.

Negotiation comes to her naturally. Instead of a yes-no answer, we’ll often get a counter proposal— “how about this?” The funny thing is, a lot of those proposals seem quite reasonable and succeed. Good things can happen when all parties get what they want.

I don’t know whether my daughter is particularly perceptive, or if this is something all children grasp initially and we subsequently drill it out of them as they progress through their school years and into adulthood? What I do know is that right now my five year old can be a more effective negotiator than many adults I encounter in my professional life.

What really heartens me is her intuitive understanding that in order for you to win, someone doesn’t necessarily have to lose.

That’s an attribute some people never grasp, and one that should help with negotiating at least some of life’s challenges ahead.

Graham Catt

Graham Catt is CEO of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA). The AVA is the national association for Australia’s veterinarians, with 8500+ members who work in clinical practice, government, research, teaching, and the animal health industry. Graham is also the Vice President of the Australasian Society of Association Executives, the peak professional society for Association professionals.

Graham is passionate about leadership: communicating vision, developing strategy, getting results, and helping people and organisations to realise their potential. That passion comes from 15+ years’ experience as a senior executive in commercial and association roles.