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May 5

4 Ways to Navigate Non-Negotiables with Leadership



4 Ways to Navigate Non-Negotiables with Leadership


Entering any conversation with a manager can be extremely difficult, causing many people to avoid them altogether when not mandatory or required. Studies show that up to 50% of employees keep quiet at work as they may be too scared, nervous or intimidated to initiate conversations, or due to implied risks and self-censorship.

These interactions can be even more daunting if you’re entering it with a list of non-negotiables that you’re looking to resolve. Read below about four strategies to use in your next negotiation with your superior or supervisor when advocating for yourself.

Know yourself, your negotiation and your communication styles

Before the negotiation itself, take adequate time to consider what you’re advocating for and what each non-negotiable means to you. It can be easy to anticipate the interaction and want to get it over with. Decide which negotiation style best suits you, what communication styles you most often revert back to and how you handle confrontation. For example, consider whether you’re an introvert or extrovert. This identifier will have a large impact on how you approach these harder conversations. You know yourself best, so identify your comfort areas, strengths and concerns before your employee-employer conversation about your non-negotiables. If you are an introvert, some useful tactics in negotiation include asking open-ended questions and pausing strategically or periodically. Also, avoid words like “kinda” or “probably” and other filler words like “um” that could be used out of habit.

As you begin to navigate your non-negotiables conversation, pay close attention to your leader’s verbal and nonverbal communication. Notice any changes in their body language, tone or volume of voice. If you find them becoming angry, try to de-escalate their anger and diffuse the situation as quickly and seamlessly as possible. Although it may be counter-intuitive, a useful strategy you can use is to reflect their emotions with a “you” statement. If that fails, you can also ignore their choice of words to avoid becoming triggered or angry yourself.

One non-negotiable to use with this strategy is expanding your current job title and job commitments. You might be eying taking on more responsibilities or an internal promotion, but are nervous to bring it up. Before asking for more responsibility, know how you want to phrase your request, where you want to bring it up and when you want to. Write down what benefits this chance will bring you and provide to your leader, team and overall company. Furthermore, anticipate how your leader might react or have reacted in similar circumstances in the past. Even if they exhibit sudden anger, stay collected in the moment enough to recognize and combat this.

Be transparent about your long-term goals

 Rather than going into a negotiation with short-term goals or short-term non-negotiables, prioritize what will really help you be personally and professionally successful and fulfilled in the long run. It’s easy to focus on items that are accessible in the near future or that you can enjoy immediately. This can be especially true when you’re accepting a job offer and you see “year one” items such as a bonus. Or, it can be a difficult balance if you’re a recent graduate or young professional, as you might prioritize trendy aspects that look important on the surface to your work life, but they actually don’t actually carry a lot of weight.

You will have to keep in mind that to do this in your negotiation, you’ll have to be vulnerable with your dreams or aspirations with your leader or leadership team. What prevents most from doing this in the workplace is the fear of risk these conversations pose. Again, if you’re young or don’t have a long rapport with your manager, opening up to leadership may seem very risky. You might fear that they’ll judge you for not being dedicated to your current job or that they won’t understand where you’re coming from. But, remember that there is power in vulnerability and authenticity in the workplace. To start, recognize self-protection mechanisms and identify what vulnerability means to you. Then, gradually let your guard down and ask for help in getting to where you want to be, whether that’s internally in the next year, at another company in a different sector in five years or even the type of personal life you want to have as you near retirement.

Another non-negotiable is your desired location. Given the pandemic, the original area that you planned to work in could be different now after reassessing how long of a commute you’re okay with or how often you go into the office. For many, this decision directly impacts their long-term goals, too. Ask yourself some difficult, yet important questions about your non-negotiables, such as:

  • Where do I want to raise a family?
  • What target salary do I need to feel secure?
  • What house can I afford given the cost of living?
  • Where do I want to retire based on my ideal lifestyle?

Use reframing techniques when your non-negotiables are unheard

 Third, go into negotiation ready to reframe conversations if they go off track. Rather than becoming frustrated, reframe conversations to make sure that your language is inclusive, optimistic and positive. One way to do this is by finding common ground when expressing your non-negotiables, wants and needs. Emphasize a mutually beneficial relationship and what shared goals or objectives unite you as a team. You can easily do this by turning “you” and “me” into “we” during verbal and written communication.

In the heat of the moment, it may be easy to think that the only solution is walking away completely – taking your experience, knowledge and insight elsewhere. Or, you might be pushed into thinking that giving your leader, manager or supervisor an ultimatum for your non-negotiables is the last tactic to make you completely heard. But, ultimatums can be damaging, as they can stunt further communication and contribute to someone getting their way, or “winning.” Even if the other party does agree, ultimatums might not be followed through in the long-term.

A related non-negotiable many remote or hybrid employees may have is accommodations like a home office stipend or flexible work arrangements. This can be anything from a stipend to help them purchase office equipment, like a second monitor, or flex time to look after kids. Rather than making your non-negotiable a demand, offer solutions that will help you produce your best work and help your team work together most effectively. Oftentimes, your manager might be unaware of these issues if you don’t work closely together.

 Focus on fundamentally understanding one another

In the end, relationships are formed and non-negotiables are better heard with understanding and sympathy for one another. A wonderful way to do this is through empathic listening, rather than active listening. Experts suggest that with this framework, think about both the emotional context being delivered as well as the words and the reality they encompass themselves. Also, pay attention to what is not being said. Or, you can think about what the speaker is alluding to but not fully verbalizing. Continuing to show acceptance and grace throughout the exchange allows them to gradually understand your non-negotiables without feeling defensive.

If that doesn’t work or you can’t rely on empathetic listening, try reflective listening. Not only does this help you understand what they are saying, but it’s equally as beneficial for them as it helps them truly think about their choice of words, ideas and actions. Both the speaker and the listener have a responsibility in making the conversation meaningful and intentional. Some important points to remember when trying this for the first time are to refrain from making judgements or offering advice out loud. The listener should only be listening.

One last non-negotiable is the way in which you receive feedback. Oftentimes, most employees think of receiving feedback as performance reviews. But, meet with your leader to better understand their employee feedback loop and how it’s either serving you or how it can be fixed. Although it’s challenging to take everyone’s preferences into consideration depending on the size of their teams, this can act as a great touchpoint to make necessary changes to better serve everyone. In the end, three characteristics of a dysfunctional team are that people don’t feel heard, respected or safe.

Next steps

If you are looking for more individual training or advice, I can help you improve your interpersonal and communication skills today. However big or small, all of your non-negotiables are worth advocating for. Remember too that these suggestions can always be molded to better fit your company culture and employee-employer relationship.

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About the Author

Douglas E. Noll, JD, MA left a successful career as a trial lawyer to become a peacemaker. His calling is to serve humanity, and he executes his calling at many levels. He is an award-winning author, speaker, teacher, and trainer. He is a highly experienced mediator. Doug’s work carries him from international work to helping people resolve deep interpersonal and ideological conflicts.


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