Many people think of negotiation as a taking process, one with clear winners and losers. However, negotiation is fundamentally about giving and receiving Join Christine McKay for this dynamic interview with Meghan Gardner, Founder of  Guardian Adventures. We talk about how Meghan’s rich experience, drawn from using live-action role-playing (LARPing) to help kids gain autonomy and agency to working in hospice care, informs negotiation. There is a lot to learn about negotiations from the power of storytelling and gaming. 

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Imagination Opens the Window to Possibilities with Meghan Gardner

I have Meghan Gardner here with me. I am genuinely excited. This is going to be an episode that’s going to be unlike any of the other ones. Meghan has an unusual background. I want to give a little story or a little body around why she’s an amazing person to have as a guest on the show. We are talking about helping you, small business owners, level up your negotiations and to be more successful in asking for more of what you want. Meghan is the CEO and Founder of this cool organization called Guardian Adventures. It is based on live-action role-playing. If anybody knows LARPing, then you know what’s that. I’ve always wanted to say what LARPing is. I’ve tried to describe it before, but I’ll let Meghan do more of that.

She started this company many years ago when nobody was talking about it. She’s been a pioneer in the education space, working with elementary school kids and high school kids, and then all the way into grown adult kids. It is this universal effort. The pandemic has been a pain in the neck for all of us, but I know it’s been a real pain in the neck for Meghan. She’s had to have some changes in her business. She works with Harvard University and their education department. She co-teaches a program there every year. She’s got tons of insight from the educational space. The other thing that makes Meghan interesting is that she is dedicated and devoted to the work that she does in hospice care.

Meghan’s unique perspective is that she has this incredible wealth of knowledge of how we negotiate with children as they are developing, as they are discovering what it is that they love to do and how we as adults influence that, how we interact with them, as well as the school system. She has that perspective. She also has this amazing perspective on how we negotiate with ourselves and those around us as our lives are about to come to an end. You may sit and think, “What the hell does this have to do with my business?” We’re going to get into that because in my opinion, this has everything to do with your business.

Meghan, I’m going to borrow your statement. On our headstones, when we die, we have the date we’re born and the date we die. Our entire life is represented by that dash. Meghan is going to talk to us about bridging those gaps and having that conversation. Meghan, I’m glad to have you here. You are one of my favorite people on the planet. I’m honored to call you a friend. Thank you for being here and supporting me and the show. I appreciate you.

Thank you, Christine. I was reflecting. We’ve known each other for years. It’s been quite a while. We’ve both have gone through so much wonderful metamorphosis, and we understand the value of stories and relationships. I love watching what you’ve done and your comprehension around the idea that negotiation is about a relationship. Relationships are stories, my story and their story intersecting and trying to see how we can find how our stories can come together. That’s a lot about what I do both with children and largely the elderly but not always. I’ve sat with people my age or even younger who are dying.

A lot of it is in this area with the children. It’s about uncovering their story and about having them find the voice of their own story, exploring it and trying to determine what their story will be. At the end of life and hospice, it’s about hearing their story and collecting it. Sometimes, it’s powerful moments of receiving a story from them. Because I am this person coming in with no history with them, I’m a blank slate. They are in this sacred space that they are going where none of us know afterward for certain. They are prepared to divulge this story. I can be the recipient of that, and what an amazing honor to be the recipient of these stories.

In both situations, people are teaching me. The children are teaching me about all the possibilities. I can see in their eyes the world of possibility and opportunity in front of them. That makes me feel like that child in me, which is to look at life as this huge array of possibilities and opportunities. Anything can happen. I can go anywhere. It’s never too late. On the other side, when somebody is dying, I can look at them reflecting upon what mattered in their life. Nobody has ever said to me that they wish they spent more time at the office, not a single one. I ask people over and over again because I am learning. I hate to say it’s selfishness to me, but I love learning from the people who are dying. This is a wisdom that we often, particularly our society which is death-phobic, doesn’t capitalize on. The elderly particularly has this wisdom of having all this life experience and often don’t have anyone to pass this wisdom on to.

When you are in the space of dying, you have clarity that is rare in life because we’re worried about what we’re going to do next. It’s like when we’re younger. When we’re older, we let go of that, and instead, we can reflect back and say, “This is what I value. This is what I hold dear. This is what I regret.” It always comes down to the people I love, the people who love me, and the regrets that I have. Over and over, I hear that. On occasion, you’ll hear somebody say, “I have no regrets.” Often people will say, “I wish I had done this. I wish I hadn’t done this,” but it’s usually, “I wish I had done this.” More often than not, that’s the one.

I’m picking up on some of the words that you said that I talk about a lot, one is around clarity. As people are moving toward the end of life, they develop this clarity. How great would it be to have clarity much earlier in life and in all that we do? I look back on my life and there are times when I go on, “If I had greater clarity, I wouldn’t have allowed myself to get moved off this path.” It’s circuitous how we get to where we’re at. That clarity is important when you’re negotiating with yourself, as well as when you’re negotiating with others. Tell us how you got into this bookend. That’s what makes what you do unique, at least to all the people I know, is you sit in this bookend space. Usually, people pick one or the other, or focus on one of these areas or the other, but you’re sitting in both. Tell us how you got into each of these things because I think that’s best.

Culture changes based on latitude and longitude. Share on X

I was listening to your interview with Jillian Michaels and you said something and I thought, “This is where Christine and I are like two peas in a pod.” I am a lifelong student of myself. I’m constantly looking inside of myself for that clarity. It’s not so much like who I am and what I want to do as much as am I being my authentic self? Am I presenting my authentic self? Often, I feel that I can move in a space of grace when I am authentic. When I’m not inevitably is when I have regrets, it’s when I mess up. It’s when I look back and I go, “I made a big mistake there and that’s because I was focused on other than my authentic self.”

The one thing I was able to identify when I was young was that I had an incredible imagination. When you’re in kindergarten or when you’re in grade school, there’s so much energy spent on creativity, on hands-on, and allowing a child the freedom to explore. We get into grade school and we get into middle school and get into high school and it seems to narrow in because now we have to get down to business and figure out what we’re going to do for the rest of our life at the age of twelve.

I felt like a lot of my life I was being squeezed into not necessarily a path but you have to start making decisions. I was interested in so much. I had a passion for science but I did terribly on the tests. I loved science. This conflict came up and finally, I gave it up. I did the minimum amount necessary for science. I tell people that the only thing that’s more dangerous than an F in a class is a D. If I fail, I’m forced to take it again and maybe I’ll find something in it. If I get a D, I will say, “I’m bad at this and I will never go back to it.”

I was frustrated with education until I met an amazing educator who was my Dungeon Master in Dungeons and Dragons. I played Dungeons and Dragons as a kid, and there was an adult who was the head of our game club. He was the Dungeon Master. He put this ragtag group of friends through challenging situations and with limited resources. He was incredibly patient. He was a nudger. He would constantly nudge us to think differently. We overcame many interesting situations. It was exciting and invigorating to try to problem-solve these somewhat real-life type situations. We had to work together with each of our special skillsets to design a solution, and learn to negotiate in the process.

I remember every week, I couldn’t wait for Saturday where I was learning in a style that was right for me because it was in a story and I was playing a character. By playing this character, I could try on different aspects of what this character was and what they were like. If I didn’t like it or other people didn’t like it, I could blame it on the character. I said, “That’s my character.” As I got older, I continued to play Dungeons and Dragons and other role-playing games and such. I was into fantasy novels and such. I exercised some writing in my artwork.

I went to college hoping to become a video or filmmaker. What I realized was I wanted to not just tell stories like a filmmaker. I didn’t have the vocabulary for it then. I wanted to co-create stories with the audience. I wanted to participate where even though I have these resources and you are my guest, we are co-creating a story together. Isn’t that an incredibly powerful experience for both of us? In doing that, you have to learn what do you want and what do I want. How do we make this relationship work in this incredibly dynamic and imaginative environment?

I found that in LARP, live-action role-playing. I stumbled upon this and I immediately recognized it as a powerful tool for education. I hired some teachers from this LARP and I said, “This is what I want to do. I want to put something like this together for kids. Largely, I did this because my girls were of the age where they were interested in it. That blossomed because what child does not want to be a sword fighter who’s fighting a dragon when they’re little?

They get to wear fun costumes.

They get to design a character and be the hero they see on TV. We collaboratively created this beautiful world called Sidelterra. It was a name that my oldest daughter came up with. Sidel means to step sideways and terra means Earth. It’s the idea based in old European folklore that if at these moments of day, dusk, dawn or twilight, you step sideways. You will step into the land of Fae. It’s this magical realm. I thought, “This is perfect. It’s called Sidelterra.” We created this world that was the intersection of myth, history and literature. We made it the training ground for heroes.

Negotiating With Children: When you have a truly co-creative environment with kids, they will never feel more empowered because they make the world with you.


When you enter this world as a child, you are now a hero. You’re not called campers or students. You’re called a hero. This realm was set up by the spirits. The greater spirits are all designed after Joseph Campbell’s archetypes on The Hero’s Journey. They could manifest in any number of ways because we didn’t want to glue all these stories to just Eurocentric stories like King Arthur and Knights of the Round Table. We instead want to explore the world stories.

We have hired cultural consultants from Native Americans. They were on staff for a whole year. They would help us represent their cultural stories in a way that is culturally sensitive and appropriate. They had to approve all of our props and costumes. Sometimes they played a role in the camp. The kids could see that the world stories are our stories. Even though you’re hearing a story from somebody who speaks a different language, they have different color skin, they’re wearing different clothes, the stories are the same. We all have the same stories. You know this in negotiation.

I want to spend a moment on that. For me, in my experience and my journey, I’ve negotiated in 53 countries. I teach multicultural negotiation. I don’t like calling it multinational because culture changes by latitude and longitude. As soon as you change the latitude and/or longitude, there’s a cultural change. Being aware of that cultural change is important. Especially in the United States, we don’t spend enough time appreciating different cultures, either within the United States or certainly outside the United States.

My dad grew up on a reservation in Montana. My grandmother spent most of her life there. I appreciate that you have the sensitivity to culture. Oftentimes when I teach multicultural negotiations, I use Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage. The Lewis and Clark Expedition negotiated with over twenty native tribes as they traverse the United States. Some of them played out better than others. It has an emphasis that culture changes based on latitude and longitude. I love that you brought the world cultures into it and the stories. The stories are the same.

At the end of the day, everybody who’s reading, I don’t care what part of the world you are in. We’re all people. We all care about the exact same things. We want to be loved. We want to be loving. We want to contribute positively to society. We want to make society a better place. If we have children, we want to raise them. We want a roof over our heads and food on our table. Our basic needs of emotion and even the physical things that are basic needs are common across the entire world. We spend so much time focusing on what’s different about us in our conversations, then we forget to look for those things that are common. You were talking about the role of a negotiator that a parent has between a child and school. That cultural aspect plays into that.

This is particularly directed to parents. As parents, we forget that our role is that bridge between our child and the school. Being that, we sometimes think we are championing our child with the school system. Sometimes we forget to check in with the child, what the child wants and what they’re motivated by. I see this a lot because as a parent, I can tell you this is a constant struggle. We want what’s best for our children. The stumbling block is when we think we know what’s best because we see our child twenty years down the road. This is true even when we have adult children. We would make that mistake of giving advice to our adult children without remembering that when we were twenty-something years old, how did we take advice from our parents?

Meghan and I both have adult children.

Mine are mid to late-twenties.

Mine are in their mid-30s.

When you are in the space of dying, you will have a clarity that is so rare in life. Share on X

Thankfully, they are understanding because I’ve explained to them, “My biggest challenge is that nature has wired me to want to take care of you and to protect you. When you are in my arms as a child, I am neurologically wired to protect you, and that doesn’t change. There’s nothing that nature gave me. There’s no little switch to flip when you become an adult that says, ‘You don’t need to do that anymore.’” Instead, as the parent, I have to go, “I’ve got to shut up now because they need to figure this out on their own.”

Even though I am absolutely certain I know the outcome of this move they’re going to make, instead, I need to be their champion to do what they think is right to do. If they fail, I’ll be there to help pick them up and keep going, and to empathize with them and say, “I messed up too when I was your age.” That’s it. It’s not to say to them, “Don’t do this because this is what will happen.” At the same time that we’re wired to protect them, they’re wired to pull away and to forge their own path. I’ll get off my soapbox on that one. That’s the little thing that I am personally working through, which is learning when to shut up with my kids.

I asked my kids, “Do you want me to listen or do you want me to help you problem-solve?” They’ve taught me that I need to ask that question. It’s a big thing because otherwise, my natural inclination is to try to dive in and problem-solve. Sometimes, they just need to vent. Sometimes, they just want to offload. They have been training me to ask that question.

As parents, we need to look at that and go, “That’s enough,” because your child is willing to be vulnerable with you and unload that with you. We need to be able to go, “This is enough. I’m still a good parent just by doing this.”

Bringing this back into business, to be a good manager is much the same skillset. If you have somebody on your team who comes to you and is frustrated, angry, upset, and they start to offload, don’t dive into problem-solving. Ask them, “How do you want me to be here for you.” Your stock price as a manager will go through the roof if you negotiate that kind of a relationship with your team. In my experience, you have similar situations that happen throughout the business, whether you’re talking to customers, suppliers, employees or investors. When people get agitated and they’re coming to you not because you are the source of agitation, but because they either want you to give them advice or they want you to listen. That tells you which role they want you to play, and then play the role that they need you to play. Not the role that you want.

It’s the same in hospice. When I knock on the door and go in to see my patient, I have to let go of everything I think they want. I have a little meditation I do before I walk through that door. “I’m outside the door. I’m going in here to receive what they need, and to be available to them to talk to me.” Sometimes, they don’t feel like they can talk to the doctor, to the nurse, or even to the chaplain. That’s why volunteers are so important because we can be that person without any agenda. I don’t have a spiritual agenda. I don’t have a social worker’s agenda. I don’t have a doctor or nurse’s agenda. I’m that one person on the team who has no agenda. That is vital at end of life because we will often be the person that they give the answers to of what they need, and then we can help pass that on to the team who can then collaborate to make that happen for them.

It bridges the two. When you have a child, you have this ultimate desire to give to your child. As your child starts to get older, they need you to switch that role to be more receiving. At end of life, it is all about being the receiver. His passing is giving everything that they can give right now because we’re trying to get it all out. The greatest gift you can give to a person at that stage is to be a complete receptacle for what it is.

For this conversation around giving and receiving, I was at an event and we essentially spent almost two days talking about giving and receiving. When you think about negotiation, for me, it’s nothing more than a conversation about a relationship. You can’t win a relationship, but all relationships are a construct of giving and receiving. What you’re talking about is it’s very much all about negotiation.

To our readers, this is why you hear a lot of people, not just me but certainly me and others who count themselves as professional negotiators, say everything is negotiable because everything is being negotiated. Whether you realize it or not, you are negotiating. It’s this whole concept and this unspoken contract of giving and receiving that is driving that negotiation. You’re doing it with your kids and you’re doing it with eldercare.

Negotiating With Children: Many ideas come from playing around on the edges and exploring what’s possible outside of the boundaries.


To go back to our relationship with our children when they’re younger, this is where we begin to start to learn the art of negotiation because you’re trying to get a child to do what they don’t want to do. If we want to take the less authoritarian approach and more of a collaborative approach to help them feel that they have some control in the situation, then it is a lot about negotiation. It’s a lot about finding out what it is they want in the situation. In education, I did a lot of reading, listening and talking with educators and with students.

One thing that I found interesting was video games. Video games have this incredible allure to people that can be beyond powerful, it can be to the point of addiction, but it also has a specific allure to it. I was like, “What is that specific allure, especially for children?” Through a lot of different resources, studies, and discussions, I came to the understanding that it was three ingredients. To each person participating, each ingredient had a varying degree of impact on a person, but it always came down to three ingredients.

The first was autonomy. When a child sits down to play in a video game, they are the one who can decide what to do, where to go, and what path to take. If it’s an immersive, massively multiplayer game, I’m putting on an outfit. I’m deciding on a character to play. I’m deciding my backstory. I’m deciding what special powers I have. There’s a lot of autonomy built in this. For a child who feels like they don’t have a lot of autonomy in their life outside of video games, that can be the greatest allure because this is that outlet for that autonomy.

A subset under autonomy, and it’s not one of the three because it’s a type of autonomy, is agency. For those who are big on autonomy, agency is this extra flavor of autonomy. Not only do I have the ability to navigate and decide where I’m going through this environment, but I have a direct influence on the outcome. I can change the world I’m navigating. That’s an immense amount of power right there. We have autonomy with agency under that.

The second thing is illustrated by how brilliantly video games do this with their little power bars up at the top of the screen, the various treasures you find, and the skills you accrue. That’s a sense of progress. Even more than a sense of progress, I would add a tangible sense of progress. Something that’s obvious to me. It’s not just this feeling of, “I’m getting better at this.” I can point to something specific that says, “I am getting better. I have this many more experience points. I have this many more spells. I’ve gotten this much closer to going up against the big boss.” That’s that tangible sense of progress.

The last one is a sense of belonging. This varies depending upon the person and whether or not they feel they fit in. I would say that even people who feel they don’t fit in desire a sense of belonging. They just haven’t found where they fit in yet. It’s innate and you even named this. It’s in the hierarchy of needs. We all feel a need to belong. Massively multi-user games have this because we’re all in this environment. We were all for the duration of this game agreeing to do one of the most powerful things that human beings can do, which is to suspend our disbelief.

Altogether, we are in this world where we believe that this collection of pixels in front of us matters. What’s happening in this pretend environment matters so much so that I’ll get pissed off when it doesn’t go my way, and I’ll get incredibly excited when we beat the big bad boss. Even people who aren’t in video games, you can see that in the movie theater. You’re sitting shoulder to shoulder with people you don’t know and you’re in a good movie. Here comes that action scene where the hero is on the edge, and you’re on the edge of your seat.

You know they’re probably going to survive but you’re like, “Here comes the big guy.” The music’s all coming up to the top, and then it resolves and the lights come up. Sometimes, people are clapping at a movie, but we’re not clapping for the movie. We’re clapping for each other. We’re clapping because we all have experienced this profound moment, where for the span of the last two hours, we each individually were that hero, and we experienced what they experienced. That suspension of disbelief is so powerful and a good story does that for us. It puts us right there.

You hit on a lot of things. Not many of my readers know but my husband works in Hollywood, and he works in animation. He says one of the worst things he ever did for his appreciation for movies was to start to work in Hollywood because he no longer has the ability to suspend disbelief. He knows what’s going on behind the curtains and the magic is gone. It’s hard for a movie to capture. He feels a little cheated by that. I always bring everything back to how negotiation works, but what you’re talking about is all negotiation.

We spend so much time focusing on the difference in ourselves that we forget to look for those things we have in common. Share on X

I often say that when you’re negotiating with somebody, you are entering into that agreement because you have the hope of having a better future, whether it’s a future working together or a future apart if it’s a relationship that needs to be dissolved. You need to make way for newer and more effective relationships. The stories are what helped bridges to that point and without them, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to build and identify common ground, and then to build upon them for the greater good. The greater good being you and me, or the greater good being a bigger collective of people. I only play one video game on the planet because my husband ruins me. If it’s not Zelda: Breath of the Wild, it isn’t getting my attention. Nintendo, would you please hurry up and bring me a new version? I like to play Breath of the Wild to death.

I don’t play video games. I studied them for this, but once you put on a costume, go out and live the character with children, who by the way suspend disbelief like that, there is no comparison.

I can’t even imagine.

It’s powerful to be out there in that environment where they are right there with you as co-creators and it’s an exciting process that you can watch build upon itself. The other thing that we do in our projects is that we don’t railroad the kids through the story. We don’t put them on a track and say, “Here’s your story. You’re going this way.”

They have the video games to do that. They have to.

Some of the more elaborate video games have a sandbox mentality. In some of these games, you could play a character who sits and fishes all day and they will make it interesting. They will have various characters come up, sit down next to you, and interact with you. You may just watch different animals come in, sit at the edge of the lake, or a fish jump. They’ll have all kinds of interesting things happening so you can just sit and fish for the entire day.

That is the idea of a sandbox. There is no specific agenda that I have to have going into the game, and the game doesn’t have a specific agenda for me other than to entertain me. This sense of progress may not be at that moment important to the participant. Maybe they don’t want to rack up points. Maybe they just want to hang out and be in this environment where they have a sense of belonging and watch what’s going on.

It could be just them exercising their autonomy that, “I want to do nothing more than sit here and fish.” Isn’t that wonderful that they can create that? We go a step further in our programs. We present the first day of the story to the children, and then we watch what they do and we co-create the next days all through summer with them. Sometimes, that night, we pull in our plot team, our counselors, and the people who are with the kids.

We deconstruct what they want, what they think is happening, where we think we can take them with this, and what kind of challenges we can put in. Usually that night, we’re writing the plot for them the next day. Sometimes, we’re making the props and the costumes for the next day. It’s elaborate and exhausting, but when you have a truly co-creative environment with kids, they will never feel more empowered because they are making the world with you as you present it to them.

IVZ 16 | Negotiating With Children
Negotiating With Children: Even though the education system must be standardized, it must learn how to flex according to the children’s needs.


That’s even more exciting than a video game, which has an established world that I can navigate. Even though it is a sandbox, I only have specific things. I remember one time, the kids intersected one of our staff people who needed to get from point A to point B and bring some admin paperwork with him. He threw on a farmer’s hat. He’s trying to quietly book across the quad to get over there and the kids ran over and started talking with him. He goes, “I’m farmer Joe,” and they’re like, “Where are you coming from? Where are you going?”

He had to come up with a story right on the spot. He made up a story that his wife died and he is going to get the paperwork put in so that he can get her headstone installed so that she doesn’t rise from the dead. They’re like, “They’re rising from the dead if they don’t have a headstone? Where is this cemetery?” We don’t have a cemetery. He comes back and he goes, “We have a problem. The kids want to go to the cemetery.” That night, we are up carving out foam headstones, painting them, carving names, and putting them in the ground in the middle of the night so that when the kids woke up, they had a cemetery.

This is an area where I wish more people would explore. It goes back to what we talked about that when people are in conversations, we shut down the opportunity to explore possibilities and we do that because we ask ineffective questions. We’re going to have you on a different show because Meghan’s doing this whole big research thing project on questioning, and there’s somebody I want to introduce you to, one of my mentors, Blair Dunkley. When she’s done with that and she has her book that she’s been working on, we’re going to have Meghan back on again to talk specifically about that.

The thing that we see as adults when we are in negotiation, especially in business, but not only in business like in Jillian Michaels’ show. She and I talked about how she’s struggling with a custody issue with her ex-partner. She’s struggling and I said this to her on the show, “Jillian, you think in terms of win and lose. You think about relationships in terms of winning and losing. You don’t think about things in terms of possibilities.”

In negotiating, if we were to move ourselves forward to take us into 2021 and beyond, you see how people earlier in their careers, Gen Z, Millennials, how they think differently from us. These concepts come into play. There’s got to be more and more. Where do we find more? We find more by allowing people to put on the costumes, to carve the headstones in the pretend cemetery so everyone has a headstone so they don’t rise from the dead. You start with what’s possible. You create an attitude of abundance that there is more. Everybody can partake in the more instead of this scarcity position that we so often take, especially in American culture.

We start learning to negotiate. We learn to negotiate as children. For most of us, we are still the same negotiator now as adults than we were when we were children. If you were a kid, you threw temper tantrums. You still are throwing temper tantrums. If you were a kid who hid behind your mom’s skirts, shut yourself in your bedroom and put your pillow over your head, you are still doing that in some way, shape or form and everything in between.

How we negotiate as kids are how we tend to negotiate as adults because nobody teaches how to negotiate any differently. In the stories that we create, we limit ourselves and we don’t give each other the opportunity to explore all these possibilities. Moving into later in life, how does that come full circle? How do you see some of those things playing out in hospice? How do we bring that whole learning back into the dash between the birth year and the death year?

As you were saying something, it occurred to me, and I haven’t thought this all the way through so help me work this out. When we negotiate and we touch on how we want to present our authentic self and our authentic needs, but what’s holding us back is that’s an incredibly vulnerable moment. We are opening up and putting our needs out there to be discussed, and the idea that we may not get what we need is terrifying. Especially because vulnerabilities have this specific blockade called shame. We have a lot of shame built up especially in this society. Shame is built up sometimes around identity, the idea that I am bad instead of I did bad. We handle our shame by burying it. We don’t talk about it and we put it away.

Unfortunately, when we do that, we can never access our authentic selves. What shame doesn’t survive is the light of awareness and bringing that out to share with some trusted confidants or a therapist. Bring that out, talk it out, and put it out there so we can begin to see that it’s not this huge ugly bear that lives inside of us in the dark cellar, chained up. It’s what is called being human and that thing we don’t want to do. It occurred to me as you’re talking about it that that’s true because a lot of what children are being taught as they get older is that their authentic selves, their needs are not important.

When people are in conversations, we shut down the opportunity to explore possibilities. Share on X

Because what’s more important is that I get to work on time, not that you are able to tuck your mittens inside of your sleeves and delay me getting you in the car and dropping you off at school. I have to get to work on time. You’re going to have people reading who are going to go, “If you don’t teach a child to compromise then they’re going to grow up spoiled.” That’s we’re saying, “Your needs matter and so do mine.” We have to learn how to negotiate those moments as opposed to saying, “Enough, my needs are more important than yours.”

When I think back about me not as a parent, and pretty much every time I talk to my daughters, I apologize for some aspects of being a parent. I look at my daughters and Keith and I did a good job as parents, and our daughters did a good job. We made a lot of mistakes. We all do. My youngest daughter was probably nine and she did something wrong and I said, “It’s not like there’s a manual on how to raise you.” Guess what I had the next morning? I had a manual on how to raise Danielle McKay. She wrote it for me and she illustrated it.

You have that? What a treasure.

That’s the thing though. At the age of nine, she took that as an invitation. I say this all the time too, “Except when it comes to sex. No is an invitation to ask different questions.” That’s what she did. She’s like, “If that’s the part you’re missing, and you don’t have that, then I’ll write it for you and you’ll know.” In our business relationships, we don’t give each other the opportunity to do that. I’ve negotiated with hundreds and hundreds of companies, almost half the Fortune 500. We get into this rote way of doing things. We do A, B, C and D. We don’t have a lot of tolerance for people. We teach kids at a young age to color in the lines. The lines get more rigid and more intricate as we get older and now what we do to our kids is mind-boggling to me. I said to somebody, “I played football or I was a swimmer.” I was at the pool at 4:00 AM and I’m like, “What in the Dickens?”

Not only do we expect them to color within the lines, we expect them to color within the lines in more intricate and complicated patterns with every passing year. There’s a lot of value to coloring outside the line. Whitespace doesn’t need to be whitespace. Our best ideas come from playing around on the edges, playing outside the margins, and exploring what’s possible outside of those boundaries and those barriers. In our business relationships, part of what makes successful business relationships is being willing to explore what that looks like and how you can create that different kind of relationships.

Another part of it is to understand what motivates somebody. That’s largely what’s missing from education and negotiation. I believe that you have an entire field of negotiation in education. That process is negotiated between the schools, a child or a parent in the school so that the policymakers can understand that we do get that we have to have a systemized approach. I get it because we’re talking about millions and millions of kids. You have to have some system but the system has to flex. It can’t be one way of finding out if you’re succeeding, and that one way are those standardized tests.

I’ll give you an example, which is Marin, my oldest, who is a successful artist. When she was younger, I taught her how to draw and she immediately loved it. She wanted to draw dragons. I showed her how to draw some dragons with a squiggle, and how to turn that into a dragon. That was it. All she wanted to do was draw dragons. I remember when I was little, all I wanted to do was draw comic book characters. I wanted to draw superheroes. I was told that that wasn’t mature. That’s not real art. I was told that you can do that in your free time but that’s not what this is about. That’s not real art. That disappointed me and it turned me off to the idea of art.

I decided that with Marin, I would take the approach of, “Dragons are the most important thing in the world to you right now. You need to do as much art about that as you want. Here’s the thing I’m going to ask for you to take that dragon and put it in the woods. Put some trees around. Show me what a woodland dragon looks like.” She started to have to focus on drawing some trees and an underwater dragon, “Can you show me a dragon in color? How about pastel? How about watercolor? How about painting? Can you put a person on the back of the dragon? What would that be like to have a pet dragon?” She started to learn the anatomy of people because she wanted to have an authentic-looking person on the back of the dragon.

It was through her passion for dragons that she started to explore different mediums of art, different environments, different subject matter. I remember one time she had to do a still life in high school and she thought it was the most boring thing that she hid a dragon in it. She slightly put the shading and hid a dragon that and she pointed out. It was brilliant. It was beautiful. She now owns a company. She has global clients. During this pandemic, she’s thriving as an independent artist and her logo is a dragon. In every single piece of art that she makes is her stamp of a little dragon. Still now, she has a dragon on every one of her pieces of art. I use that story to help parents understand that.

Negotiating With Children: How people negotiate as kids is the same when they reach adulthood because nobody teaches how to do it any differently.


I remember when Marin also had some proclivity towards engineering. She would try to figure out, scientifically, how do dragons work? How do they produce fire? How do they fly? They have to have big wings. She came up with this whole idea of how they inflate these airbags inside of themselves to lighten their body. Their bones must have been hollow like birds because that would make them light enough to fly. She would be criticizing dragons on the film that had small wings. She’s like, “No, please don’t say it’s magic. There has to be a reason.” I love that she was bringing her imagination to play in reality. She was using that love of dragons to foster her passion for engineering and science. It turns out that she does a lot of engineering with her art now. She used her passion for dragons to bridge the gap between art and science.

Even my youngest, Gwen, she’s a particle physicist. She can tell you how her ability to see shapes in her head and to visualize outside the box painting allows her to think differently. At the level of particle physics, that is a whole different level of science and thought. I can only philosophically wrap my head around it. It’s scientifically wow. You have to be able to think differently and she believes that that’s an influence of her artistic mind, that she can grasp those things.

That’s amazing. Bringing that into a full circle, I know you have a gift for the audience, and I want people to know how they can get in touch with you and follow you. There’s so much in what we’ve talked about. To our readers, I want to thank you so much for tuning in. I hope you go back to this again because there are lots of little nuggets that while on the surface may not appear to be applicable to what you’re doing in your day-to-day business. There are lessons and concepts in here that you can extrapolate to apply to your business and to every one of your relationships. Whether it’s a professional or a personal relationship. One of the big things is how you bring possibilities to the fore, and how you give and receive in your relationships. Those things combined will make a massive difference in how you move forward in your business. Tell us a little bit, Meghan, you have a gift for our readers which is pretty cool.

This is for those companies or families that are distant from each other in this time of social distance. It’s a gift of a virtual escape room that you can get for free by signing on to If you go there, you will find the Guardian Adventures Learning Platform. You get under the platform sign up and it’s free. There is a free zombie adventure escape room. This escape room isn’t something you go in and play, it’s something that walks you through how to run it. You get all of the digital assets, you get videos that show you how to run it and you can run it not only for kids, you can run it for adults too. You could run it for your family and your team at work. It can be a great bonding experience. The neat thing is it can be done over Zoom. It can be done remotely.

Take the time to go through it. Take the course, download the assets, set it up and you get to run the escape room for your family or for your coworkers and play with it. Have fun with it. Don’t railroad people through to the end result. Create a sandbox and play with it and get creative. You will have so much fun with each other. We could do another whole talk on this about how essential playtime is in the workplace for creativity and bonding.

I know you have a quote in Forbes about playtime. Meghan is on all sorts of things. She’s part of one of the Forbes clubs.

I’m one of the founding members of the Forbes Boston Business Council, and in a number of other organizations. You can find me on LinkedIn. It’s Guard Up was the original name for a company. It’s now the parent company for Guardian Adventures. What we do is we specialize in emotionally immersive experiences. We’re not just about doing these educational events and stuff. We’re about taking whatever you are working with whether that’s corporate training. One of our clients is Royal Caribbean. We create onboard adventures for their families. What we specialize in is how do we get people emotionally engaged and immersed in the activity that they’re doing. That comes from negotiation and understanding their motivation.

Thank you so much for being here. Thank you to the readers. A quick thing. My first book is about to come out. I’m so excited, Why Not Ask a Conversation About Getting More. We are launching our Venn Master’s Program, which we have talked about in a few different places. Check it out. I can’t wait to see you guys next time. Thank you so much for spending time with us. We are honored that you have given us the benefit of your most valuable asset. Remember that negotiation is nothing more than a conversation about a relationship. You cannot win a relationship. Until next time, have a great day. Thank you, everybody.

Thank you.

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About Meghan Gardner

IVZ 16 | Negotiating With ChildrenMeghan Gardner is the founder of Guardian Adventures, which provides consultation and development of innovative and educational online and live events, training programs, and STEM programs. Specializing in story-based and emotionally immersive experiences where participants are highly engaged and transferring their education from the learning environment into practical use. Guardian Adventures also provides curriculum and training development for making education exciting and memorable for adults and employees (including an OSHA training program for corporate lab safety which involves a zombie invasion). Translating High Tech media and Transmedia into In-Person and High Touch experiences are the company’s core competencies by developing innovative and educational training or adventures that engage participants in a manner that improves understanding, retention, and transfer.

Guardian Adventures also provides licensing for established programming including exciting online and in-person escape rooms, STEM based adventures, story-based events, and more through the Online Training Center:

Meghan is also a STEM Curriculum Designer for ST Unitas (the parent company of The Princeton Review), a story-based adventure designer and staff trainer for Royal Caribbean Cruises (providing educational adventures for their 6 million clients a year), a guest lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education and other major universities, and an international speaker on the topic of Immersive Experiences in Education, Learning, and Training for all ages.

In her free time, Meghan mentors women and minority entrepreneurs and volunteers for hospice where she works with terminally ill patients of all ages as well as their families.