Negotiating in Life , Negotiating Tips , Negotiation Strategies , Planning for Negotiations August 18, 2009

Non-Negotiable Positions

If you are involved in negotiations you will, sooner or later, encounter a “non-negotiable” position. This is an inevitable part of negotiating...

If you are involved in negotiations you will, sooner or later, encounter a “non-negotiable” position. This is an inevitable part of negotiating. You might have to lay out your non-negotiable position to someone, or you could receive a non-negotiable position from someone else.

When someone encounters a non-negotiable stand, the common reaction is to get angry and lash back.

Are non-negotiable positions negotiable? Do they serve a purpose at the bargaining table? The answer to both questions is yes.

Non-negotiable positions are appropriate under some circumstances. They serve to lower the expectations of the other party. They can also help make the other party more willing to compromise rather than risk a serious confrontation. However, you should not make something non-negotiable unless you have considered the cost of deadlock; the degree of mutual dependence between the parties; potential backlash; face-saving needs; and your ability to support and defend your position.

Sometimes non-negotiable positions are so extreme that compromise appears virtually impossible. At stake may be deep-rooted values or policies that are of an ethical, religious, professional, or economic nature. The introduction of such a position may create hostility. A non-negotiable position is dangerous for the party making it. It can so inflame the other party that deadlock becomes inevitable on all the other issues being negotiated.

Is there room for taking a non-negotiable position in your negotiations? Of course there is. It happens every day.

"We cannot reveal our costs."
"We will not show you your competitor’s proposal."
"We will not give you our design secrets."
"We cannot reduce the price because government regulations prohibit us from doing so."
"We will not permit your people to interfere with our management decisions."

These positions may or may not be non-negotiable, but they sure sound like it to the inexperienced negotiator. You need to test positions like these.

The following countermeasures will help you keep emotions under control even when deeply held values are threatened:

  1. Move to “off-the-record” discussions to diffuse the hostility and gain a better understanding of the other party’s position.

  2. Explain why the demands are non-negotiable. Sometimes the best concession you can give is simply a good explanation.

  3. Be prepared to discuss the issues that are negotiable. Agreement here may soften the non-negotiable positions.

  4. Don’t panic—remember all of the negotiating tools you have at your disposal from the Karrass seminar.

  5. Don’t be afraid to use your negotiating strength—with discretion.



Approach something that appears to be non-negotiable with a cool head, complete information, and a thorough understanding of the organizational and personal issues surrounding the position. When challenging a non-negotiable position, provide sufficient time for acceptance of your arguments. This will help soften the non-negotiable position. Karrass research indicates that most non-negotiable positions turn out to be somewhat negotiable.

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