In the business world, it’s said that anything is negotiable.
This makes sense: why would you enter into a contract that didn’t fulfill the needs of all involved parties? If you just sign paperwork as it’s handed to you without considering the terms, making changes as necessary, and handing it back to the other party so you can hone in on an equally beneficial situation, you’re going to find yourself with a sub-par job, trade deal, or anything else to which you sign your name.
Negotiation is about finding balance. Giving something up to get something that is ostensibly more important. This is Business 101 stuff.
Why is it, then, that even those who are familiar with the subtleties of negotiation are so unlikely to apply the same strategies to other aspects of life?
When you look at a contract, you’re looking at a template for the way things could work. A default, boilerplate set of instructions that inform your freedoms and restrictions and marching orders moving forward.
We’re given similar templates for many other things, as well. Our lifestyles. Our relationships. Our dietary habits and our exercise regimens. Why shouldn’t we apply the same due diligence to life that we would to business?
Why shouldn’t we negotiate what it means to be in a relationship? Anything that goes on between non-coerced, consenting adults is fair play, yet most of us stick to the standard script. Not because the default method of dating and marriage and building a family is perfect for everyone, but because we haven’t considered that it’s possible to deviate from that norm and to negotiate terms with the person or people with whom we want to have a successful relationship.
There’s no right or wrong way to approach relationships, so long as everyone involved is getting what they want and need. There’s plenty of grey area in which to play, experiment, and discover the perfect arrangement for you and your priorities.
Why shouldn’t we negotiate what it means to be successful? To live a good life? Many people equate ‘success’ with monetary acquisition, or fame, or respect. But what if you prefer privacy, or a more monastic lifestyle? There’s nothing wrong with breaking with traditions that say you need to earn yourself a corner office and a sports car, just as there’s nothing wrong with defying those who say you need to travel more and experience new things all the time in order to be happy.
There’s no right or wrong way to live, and no absolute standard of success. That means you can reconfigure your concept of both and write up a new contract for yourself.
Anything is negotiable. Read all the contracts you’re handed carefully and start marking them up with potential edits. Only by exploring what we perceive to be un-malleable can we determine what is actually ours to shape, and only by truly knowing ourselves can we ensure we’re negotiating for the right changes.
There are always tradeoffs, but if there’s something missing in your life, something you can’t live without, it may be worth giving up something else in order to get it.
Update: April 12, 2017
This requires a significant change in habits to make work, and I still neglect it sometimes, with some things. But in the areas of life in which I apply it regularly, the results have been immensely satisfying.