In Negotiating with Your Boss, What You Want/Need/Deserve Is Not Most Important

Almost daily, I am told by my clients that they “want / need / deserve” better treatment by their employers, and they want my help in getting that better treatment. The first thing I tell them is that what they “want / need / deserve” has to be put aside for the moment, as it is not the most important focus for us. Instead, I tell them that what their employer “wants / needs / deserves” is more important. They look at me like I am nuts.

I then explain to them that workplace negotiation is not a matter of haggling back and forth, like you do over the price of a used car. At the office, negotiation is a matter of motivation, and “I want – I need – I deserve” is not motivating to your boss, but in fact the opposite: it is de-motivating. Everyone says that to your boss, nearly every day. It does not get you what you want; never does, never will.

If you’re going to negotiate a better salary, bonus, title, schedule or other workplace reward or amenity, your first focus needs to be on what your boss wants, needs and feels he or she deserves. That’s the key to getting you what you “want, need and deserve.” The focus must be on their own sense of “want, need, and deserve.” You must put yourself in their shoes first.

I then offer my clients this true story: Two years ago I was with my then-13 year-old son in a ski shop, buying him a new snowboard. He spotted a neat watch, made special for hikers, with a compass and other gizmos. He said, “Dad, I’d really like this watch.” I said, “Sam, we’re here for a snowboard. You are not getting a watch.” He responded, “But, Dad, I really need this watch.” I counter-responded, “No you don’t. You go on two hikes a summer; you don’t need a special watch for those two hikes.” Sam resorted to “But, Dad, I deserve this watch.” In utter amazement, I said, “Don’t even go there. With your grades . . .don’t get me started.”

Being the smart kid he is, Sam then tried a different approach: “Dad, let me ask you a question: Don’t you want me to be at the school bus on time in the morning, so you don’t have to drive me to school, and miss your train?” I didn’t know what to say. “And, Dad, don’t you want me to get back to school after lunch on time, so the attendance officer doesn’t call you at the office and interrupt your meetings?” I was speechless. “And, Dad, don’t you want me to get home for dinner at night so you don’t have to wait an hour to eat?” I was in awe.

I bought him the watch.

You see, he appealed to my “wants, needs and deserves,” and did so effectively. Instinctively, he knew that his “wants, needs and deserves” were not very motivating to me, but that my own “wants, needs and deserves” would be. And he was right. I said to myself, “For the price of this darn watch, maybe I’ll get to work on time, maybe I won’t be interrupted, and just maybe I’ll even get to taste warm food again.” That watch actually seemed like a bargain!

Remember that your own boss is more likely to be motivated (also known as successfully negotiated) by appealing FIRST to his or her own needs, whether that be for a showing of loyalty, exertion of extra effort, or being helped in a way that he or she really appreciates.

Remember that your own boss is more likely to be motivated by FIRST discussing his or her “wants, needs and deserves,” and how you can help them happen.

It’s a crucial part of understanding workplace negotiating, because it is the necessary element of motivation. “Boss, I understand your dilemma, and it’s important to me that I am part of the solution, not the problem. Once we settle that, or achieve that, might we discuss my own dilemma, too?”

Just like the rest of us, bosses like to hear the “sweet music” of their own interests, their own problems, and their own concerns being addressed. Talking about them puts them in a much sweeter mood, and makes them more likely disposed to “give back” to you. In smart negotiating, you must create the impression of having something valuable to give; then and only then might you be likely to receive.

My son got his watch. And it will work for you, too.

© 2008 Alan L. Sklover. All rights reserved. Commercial use prohibited.