Stop Negotiating the Non-Negotiables
By: Steven Gaffney
Have you ever started a new job and realized it was all wrong for you? Or settled down into a relationship and wondered how you’d ever gotten involved with this guy in the first place? These realizations are painful, but if we can embrace them and try to uncover what’s behind them, they can be powerful learning experiences that will help us avoid needless suffering. These experiences are opportunities for us to discover what’s most important to us — what I like to call non-negotiables.
Let me show you what I mean. I now know that I have three non-negotiables: love, honesty, and making a difference. These non-negotiables apply equally to my career and my love life; the trouble is that I didn’t always know I had these non-negotiables. That lack of understanding led to a lot of difficultly for me as I tried to hire people to work with me. More than once I hired someone, only to find out the person was all wrong for the job. Why? Because I was looking for someone with characteristics like computer skills and office management experience, and that alone couldn’t make things work. It’s not that I didn’t need someone with computer skills and management capabilities; I did. But the difficulty of working with people who didn’t respect what is most important to me helped me to discover that I was looking for more than computer skills in a potential colleague.
That experience and other similar difficulties helped me to understand what is most important to me — my non-negotiables. And once I discovered them, I realized they were truly not negotiable — at work and in my personal life. So I needed to find someone to work with who could respect what is most important to me. Now that I’ve found the right colleague, it’s joyful at work, because there’s compassion there. I would never want to work with a person who isn’t inherently loving. I would never want to work with someone who has a mean streak. And I certainly couldn’t work with someone who isn’t honest. I value my colleague’s feedback. I rely on it. Furthermore, she is invested in helping me make a difference.
My colleague may have different non-negotiables, yet she respects mine. All of the people close to me acknowledge how important my non-negotiables are. Because honesty is one of my non-negotiables, my friends are honest with me, although I’m not sure how honest each of them is with others. In turn, I, of course, acknowledge and respect their non-negotiables.
People don’t have to have the same values for their relationships to work. But they must be respectful of each other’s values. Perhaps you want to make a difference in people’s lives. Maybe one way you do that is by investing time each week as a Big Sister to a disadvantaged child. The man you’re looking for doesn’t have to participate in the Big Brother program, but he does have to respect the time you spend with your Little Sister. He can’t undermine it. Furthermore, because you strongly value that kind of community service, you’re never going to be ultimately compatible with someone who’s mainly out for himself.
There are many techniques you can use to discover your own non-negotiables. My own process, which I use in seminars, takes just fifteen minutes and has helped countless seminar participants understand what’s most important to them. However you choose to think through this issue, it’s vital to do so. The truth is that you will suffer in life if you negotiate with others on your non-negotiables. I suffered at work before I understood my own non-negotiables because I was negotiating on them without even realizing it.
If you can be clear with yourself about what’s most important to you, you may just get to the root of what’s troubling you at work or at home or in your friendships. Understanding your non-negotiables is the key. By taking the time to reflect on your values, you’re taking an important step on your journey toward a truly satisfying future.