When we teach negotiation skills, we often surprise students by pointing out how many things we think of as ‘non-negotiable’ can actually have price variability – things like the bottles of wine at a restaurant or the price of sweater in a store. But the world should not be infinitely negotiable, as a recent interaction with my son helped me realize.

There are some things which should be non-negotiable. We should address these as givens and take them off the table for bartering.

My son was trying to persuade me to stay home from my planned business trip, so I might attend a special event as his school. Full disclosure: I was attending no less than 3 other ‘special’ events that week during working hours, and I was just not able to rearrange the trip as no one was available to take my place (parent guilt showing thru). He cried, and then after spending a few moments thinking, he said to me, “well, I guess I won’t be talking to you as much if you can’t make the party.” What? This sentence was like a dagger to the heart. He was going to stop talking to me? As I sputtered my indignation, he then countered “Well, if you could make the party, then I guess we could continue to talk like this…but otherwise…”

Shrewedly, he had chosen an element to barter with that got my attention – I place great value on our ‘mother – son’ chats, and I would like them to continue. But it made me think, when does negotiation cross the line and become blackmail?

Shouldn’t there be some items that are not up for negotiation? For example, while we search for ‘good deals’ on airline tickets, I am sure none of us would barter on safety to achieve a good price. So, what things do you think should be off the table?

For us at Point Taken, it is the quality of our work. That is a given – always present and never part of the negotiation. One interesting exercise for all of us might be to think about what items you are never willing to negotiate away; not just what you always want to get before you agree to a deal, but what you always want to give as part of the deal. This allows us to anchor ourselves in what we truly value, and helps us create integrity in our negotiations.

Now, I just need to have this same conversation with my kids.