Five Simple Thoughts About Effective Workplace Negotiating

“The more a plough is used, the brighter it becomes.”   

–       Slovenian Proverb

ACTUAL “CASE HISTORIES”: More often than not, our SkloverWorkingWisdom™ newsletters offer specific insights, address vexing problems, or shed light on particular situations employees face in the workplace. Every now and then, though, I “kick back” and simply share a few general thoughts that have been “bouncing around” my mind. This newsletter offers a few of those general thoughts.   

LESSON TO LEARN: Most people shudder at the thought of “negotiating” at work. Some simply hope for the best. Others feel that, with all that’s at stake when engaged in workplace negotiations, perhaps they should hire an attorney to lobby on their behalf. While this is customary for senior-most executives in the “C-Suite,” it is not common or expected for the vast majority of employees. Instead, you need to learn how to, and be comfortable in, negotiating on your own behalf. Sure, it may be outside your “comfort zone” to do so, but the alternative is far worse than “uncomfortable.”

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Here are five simple thoughts for your consideration:

1. Determine what you’ll seek before you seek it. This, you may say to yourself, is nothing but obvious and common sense. The truth is that so many people hope for the best, aren’t assertive, but entirely passive. Most people don’t really sit themselves down, consider their values, gather their thoughts, and organize their presentation. When you haven’t thoroughly prepared for negotiation, you can’t really negotiate effectively. Instead, you can only react.

Start by making a list of what you hope to gain from your work, and where you see your career headed, and then try to gather those things in the negotiating process. Rather than limit yourself to financial matters, as most people do, bear in mind that, while money is surely important, there are other aspects to a happy and health life.

Consider three categories of goals: (i) “rewards,” such as a salary increase, bonus, improved title or vacation package; (ii) “risk-limiters,” meaning things that limit daily risks, such as (a) an assurance that you will be considered for Managing Director at the next partners’ meeting, or (b) an agreement to provide ample notice or considerable severance in event of layoff, and (iii) “role-enhancers,” such as improved title, more staff or better territory, all of may well later result in your getting more “rewards” and better “risk-limiter.” Remember the saying “The rich have money; the wealthy have time.”

To avoid overlooking critical negotiating points, and since almost no one is their own best advocate, consider the use of trusted friends or professionals who have the skills and experience you may lack, and surely have a fresh perspective.

2. Seize a degree of control of the negotiating process. A New York bond trader provided her  supervisors with a goal list, including broader job duties and a more flexible work schedule. She also requested a modest salary increase instead of the primarily performance-based pay she was used to. This put higher-ups in the position of reacting to her, rather than vice versa, and she did especially well as a result.

Likewise, a New Jersey real-estate executive was able to, in effect, “create” his own position as Chief Financial Officer at his new employer. Presenting each of the elements of the position he sought – including significant authority, stock options and various perquisites he had long sought, paid off.

You can get the negotiating ball rolling in your favor by writing a brief letter or memo to your employer – or target company once you’ve received a job offer – before discussing compensation. In it, outline your key accomplishments and emphasize your past and potential contributions to the company, not what you need or want. That way, you’re shaping a perception of your value. This is the time to advertise.

Want to learn more about workplace negotiating? Consider viewing our Sklover Video On Demand entitled “Can I Really Negotiate with My Boss?” Just sit back, relax, watch and listen. To do so, just [click here.]

3. Consider the “win-wins” of performance-based compensation and “triggers of value.” When employers say they can’t afford your requested salary, bonus or benefits, consider suggesting (a) performance-based pay or other rewards, and (b) various “triggers of value.” These are particularly effective in today’s cost-conscious environment. Strict budget constraints are being faced by every employer today.  

Performance based compensation includes, for example, “If I bring in $4 million in new revenues, can we agree I will be entitled to a bonus of no less than five percent of everything over that?” in true “win-win” fashion. Such “no lose” propositions are quite popular with employers today. Imagine this as a “dimmer switch” that gives the employee a sliding scale of reward.

Consider that the real-estate executive’s new employer was happy to agree to his salary requirements on the condition that the company’s earnings justified it. And since the bond trader was used to performance-based pay, she negotiated a modest salary, with bonuses tied to her performance and the company’s. (Top performers usually benefit from this strategy.)

“Triggers of value” include rewards that kick in upon certain “value achievements.” Here are two examples: “If I bring in ten new major clients, I will get the Senior Sales Executive title I want so much.” Or “When I get the accreditation we need to sell that new product, can I have a larger office so I can meet clients there?” Imagine these as an “on-off switch,” that “clicks” on the achievement of a certain, agreed objective.

If you would like to obtain our Model Memo to Set Your Bonus Expectations with Your Boss, just [click here.] Shows “What to Say and How to Say It.”™ Delivered by Email – Instantly!

4.  Use positive language. If there are two words I sure hate to hear in employment negotiations, they are “non-starter” and “deal breaker.” In almost all circumstances, it’s wise to never say “never” in an employment negotiation because there is always another way or another opportunity to get what you seek.

If your employer or prospective employer is resistant to what you are seeking or have requested, consider using less absolute and more neutral-sounding words to describe your position by saying that you find the offer “not yet there,” “somewhat disappointing,” “unfortunate,” “surprising” or even “difficult to accept as final.”

You also might try asking an employer to reconsider its position, or ask for additional time to consider the terms to keep the door open to favorable changes. The point is to avoid words that make you sound angry or appear unwilling to negotiate further. Encourage the continuation of the process until you arrive at a satisfactory agreement, or are absolutely certain it cannot be achieved.

5. Always get written confirmation. Clear confirmation is a crucial element of negotiations that candidates often forget, to their considerable detriment. Getting a promise or assurance in writing provides real closure and prevents the development of later misunderstandings.

If you are not offered written confirmation, take charge of the process by writing a letter spelling out the details of the deal you’ve agreed to while they’re fresh in your mind. For example, yours might read something like this:

“Dear Bob, I look forward to our working together. For the sake of clarity, I set down below the points of the agreement we reached yesterday. If I’m incorrect on any aspect, please let me know. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll assume we’re in agreement. Sincerely, Jeff.”

By a legal doctrine known as “estoppel,” your letter becomes the equivalent of a contract without invoking the expense of a lawyer. More important, it prevents misunderstandings that might result from poor memories, changed circumstances or, at times, bad faith on the part of an employer.

These five thoughts open the door for effective negotiating and may be of significant assistance to you in preparing your own negotiations. They are applicable to all situations and all employees. At SkloverWorkingWisdom,™ that is what we strive to offer.

For individual attention and assistance, Mr. Sklover is available for telephone consultations lasting 30 minutes, 60 minutes, or 2 hours. If you would like to set up a consultation, just [click here.]

SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation of work and career issues requires that you think “out of the box,” and build value and avoid risks at every point in your career. We strive to help you understand what is commonly before you, and know what to “watch out” for. These Five Simple Thoughts will help you do just that. Now the rest is up to you.

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. Always be vigilant. And always do what you can to achieve for yourself, your family, and your career. Take all available steps to increase and secure employment “rewards” and eliminate or reduce employment “risks.” That’s what SkloverWorkingWisdom™ is all about.

*A note about our Actual Case Histories: In order to preserve client confidences, and protect client identities, we alter certain facts, including the name, age, gender, position, date, geographical location, and industry of our clients. The essential facts, the point illustrated and the lesson to be learned, remain actual.

Please Note: This Email Newsletter is not legal advice, but only an effort to provide generalized information about important topics related to employment and the law. Legal advice can only be rendered after formal retention of counsel, and must take into account the facts and circumstances of a particular case. Those in need of legal advice, counsel or representation should retain competent legal counsel licensed to practice law in their locale.

Repairing the World –
One Empowered and Productive Employee at a Time ™

© 2013 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.