Many of you probably already know that I’m a country girl at heart. Hence, I live in a beautiful home just off the main highway on a dirt road which makes owning a black vehicle of any kind completely out of the question.  

When we shopped recently for my first new car in 11 years, I had one “non-negotiable.” It had to be white. Oh, I wanted leather interior and heated seats, but the dealbreaker for me was the color.  

In the Courageous Conversations we have in our lives and work, it’s helpful to be clear about the “non-negotiables” going into the conversation. It actually allows the other person to understand what is on the table and open for discussion. For example, a “non-negotiable” might be having everyone on time at the daily morning meeting; however, you may be open to a variety of ways to make that happen such as people logging in on Zoom.  

There are a couple of cautions when using the idea of non-negotiables:

  • Tone – Your tone of voice will always communicate more than your words in terms of your true meaning and intentions. And it will convey to the other party whether this is an ultimatum or an actual negotiation.  
  • Overuse – If everything on your list is non-negotiable, then obviously you appear completely inflexible and unwilling to find a solution that works for all which will decrease, if not eliminate the other party’s willingness to give a little too. 
  • The “Why” – Explaining the reason why this particular piece is a non-negotiable for you can go a long way in expanding the understanding around the issue and the willingness to focus on what can be negotiated. 
  • Don’t cry wolf! – Be thoughtful about what is really a non-negotiable for you. If you always end up negotiating the non-negotiables, it only stands to reason that they will lose their validity and impact.  

Defining and stating your “non-negotiables” is a close cousin to the setting of boundaries in your Courageous Conversations. Both will help you keep the conversation focused on reaching a resolution that all can feel good about.  

“Let us never negotiate out of fear.  But let us never fear to negotiate.” 

~ John F. Kennedy


  1. I love this quick note! Communicating clear boundaries and expectations is important just as asking your team for feedback, “is there anything I’m missing that might make me reconsider this non-negotiable”

    PS: I live in the country and only buy brown or silver vehicles because they hide dirt the best 😘

    1. I’m glad you liked it, Julie… and I LOVE your suggested additions to the conversation! I plan to incorporate that in the future. Thanks!

  2. I have a courageous conversation on my calendar today. Reviewing your sage words are genuinely helping me prepare so that all parties are respected and heard. Thank you, Katerine. And, Julie, I will add your suggestion as well.
    Powerful and logical!

    1. Good luck, Anne, in your CC today. You are always empathetic and wise, so I know you’ll do very well. Glad you found this helpful in preparing for it.

Leave a Comment