How to Respond to “Take It or Leave It” In Employment Negotiations

“We can convince others by our arguments,
but we can only persuade them by their own.”

– Joseph Joubert

ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: Denise was Firm Administrator of a large Denver law firm. She had been recruited from a smaller, suburban law firm to work in the larger, center city of Denver with the promise of “payment for performance.” The larger Denver law firm paid its lawyers bonuses for working and billing extra hours, and offered Denise a significant raise, and a large bonus, too, if she achieved certain targets on specified goals each year.

Shortly after Denise was hired, she met with Peter, the Managing Law Partner and her direct boss, and together they determined specific targets for each of her three goals. For each target achieved, Denise would receive a certain increase in salary, and a certain lump-sum bonus payment. These were her goals, and her achievement targets for each: (a) lowering the turnover rate of attorneys and paralegals by 20%; (b) lowering client late payments by 25%; and (c) lowering overall office overhead costs, for everything from paper clips to pensions, by 10%. Then the two prepared a memo in which they confirmed their understanding and agreement.

Denise is a focused, organized, and goal-driven person. After a brief period of getting to know the law firm and how it worked, she promptly came up with ideas that would: (a) encourage legal staff to remain with the firm, (b) encourage clients to pay their bills in a more timely manner, and (c) identify and reduce unnecessary office expenditures. At the end of her first year, she had achieved two of her three targeted goals, and had missed her third targeted goal by just a little.

By Denise’s first year anniversary, a different partner, Andrew, had succeeded Peter as the firm’s Managing Partner. Denise asked to meet with Andrew, to confirm her new raise and her achievement-based bonus. When they met, Andrew expressed dismay. He had heard about Denise’s understanding with Peter, but the Firm’s new business had plummeted due to the ongoing crisis in credit markets. Also, Andrew said, he did not believe in “payment for performance,” and saw no reason to adhere to Peter’s philosophy. Andrew saw the achievement of these goals to be Denise’s basic job, not a reason for special reward. Andrew was resolute: in light of the Firm’s lack of new business, Denise’s compensation would not be increased at all.

Denise contacted us in a state of near-disbelief. She had believed in Peter’s promises, and had relied on them. We counseled Denise that “all was not lost,” so long as she “kept the conversation going.” As I often say, “In employment negotiation, so long as there is talk, there is hope.”

As we counseled her to do, Denise asked to speak with Andrew again. She proposed they agree on a reasonable raise and bonus, and consider achievement-based raises and bonuses for the next year. She also proposed being given “non-cash alternatives” to raises and bonuses, such as flexibility of schedule and improved title. [See our newsletter entitled “Bonus or Raise Disappointing? Consider These Alternative Forms of Compensation” in our Blog’s Newsletter Library, under the heading “Raise, Bonus or Compensation.”] Denise also suggested that they agree to meet again in 30 days, after both had an opportunity to consider alternatives. To all suggestions, Andrew simply said, “No. Take it or leave it.”

Denise asked Andrew, “Is there anything I could do to persuade you to consider discussing this with me further?” Andrew was unmoved; he told Denise, “Your compensation is the same. Take it, or leave it.”

Finally, Denise asked Andrew, “Might we speak again in two weeks, after we both have had some time to think about it?” Andrew’s response was a clear and specific “No.”

So, Denise did as Andrew recommended. That is, she both “took it” and then “left it.” Said differently, without threat or fanfare, Denise decided that the wisest course of action was to accept what was being offered her – in the meantime – but to begin looking elsewhere for a new position, too. When she found a new job, she left the Firm. We applauded her decision to “take it and leave it.” It was what Andrew had suggested, and exactly what he had deserved.

LESSON TO LEARN: Employment is not a one-time event, but an ongoing relation. In any successful ongoing relation, the parties must communicate with each other, and continue communicating with each other over time. This is especially the case regarding matters of critical concern to either one or both of the parties. The unilateral decision by one party to cease communicating about an important concern of the other party is not to be taken lightly. In fact, the decision to cease communications can be, in effect, a decision to cease successful relations.

Worse than a decision to cease communicating is a decision to cease giving consideration to the other side’s concerns. It is more destructive to the relation, as it goes further “inside the soul.” Even if an employer cannot meet an employee’s request(s), he or she can always say, “Let me think about it,” or “Let’s see if business improves.” Or, perhaps, “That is the best I can offer at this time. Perhaps we will be able to do better in the future.” Who knows, something might take place that would alter the employer’s perspective, or change the employer’s mind. At a very minimum, in order to show respect and “continue the communication,” an employer can always say, “I am sorry. I wish I could give you what you want, but I cannot.” To the opposite effect, “Take it or leave it” clearly expresses, “I am no longer interested in considering your concerns.”

Saying to someone “Your concerns are important to me” is an acknowledgment, a validation, a confirmation, of their humanity. On the other hand, saying to someone “Your concerns are not important to me” is the opposite: a denigration, a humiliation, a refutation of their humanity. That is what “Take it or leave it” is. If it takes place in the course of your employment, it may well be a sign to find a different employer.

In negotiations we often tell people, “While talk continues, there is hope.” Where one side has announced its ears are now deaf to the concerns of another, there is no hope. Such an expression ends hope for the negotiation and, I believe, the likelihood of a successful long-lasting relation.

The lesson is this: In employment negotiations, if you are confronted with “Take it or leave it,” despair not, for all is not lost. You may be able to overcome it, and get past it, but that takes concerted effort. However, if concerted effort does not work, you might just accept the message: “We don’t care.” It may be time to “Take it” for now and “Leave them” when you can.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Here are some ideas for dealing with “Take it or leave it”:

1. If possible, take steps to prevent negotiations from getting to that point: The first and best way to deal with “Take it or leave it” is to avoid getting to that point in negotiations. “Take it or leave it” is usually expressed by employers after some time of discussion, often in frustration. You can avoid getting your employer in a mindset to say “Take it or leave it” if, in your own initial discussions, you exhibit (a) good reasons for your request(s), (b) flexibility, (c) alternative solutions, and (c) a willingness to hear and address your employer’s concerns.

2. Try to redirect discussions to the employer’s views, concerns, and reasons: If an employer says, “Take it or leave it,” try turning the discussion around to what he or she wants and needs. Try “So that I can better understand, and more easily accept, your decision, can you share with me what the reasons are that my raise / bonus / promotion can’t be considered? Can you tell me what are your concerns, limits, or pressures that make my request beyond discussion?” Most people would rather talk about themselves, and their concerns and problems, than talk about yours. So, give your employer a chance to do so. You might pick up valuable information. Also, it gives you a chance to “keep the conversation going.”

3. Try to redirect discussions to the future, and what your expectations should be: Sometimes employers get themselves into a temporary financial bind, but no “bind” lasts forever. Consider suggesting the following: “So that I can guide my future expectations appropriately, can we discuss what I might expect in the future?” First, an unwillingness to discuss the future is a sure sign your expectations should be minimal, if not dismal. Second, what your employer is willing to discuss about your future expectations will tell you a lot about whether you will likely hear “Take it or leave it” again. Third, if your employer is willing to talk about the future, and even willing to “make up” for what has happened here, you may be able to gain a commitment, even a promise, that “Take it or leave it” will not happen again. At a minimum, the employer’s answer to your request will be instructive, and interesting.

4. Try Our Notion of “Triggers of Value”: We suggest you try this: “If, perhaps, I could increase revenues by 25% . . .” or “If, perhaps, I could collect 90% of the monies owed the Firm within 60 days . . .” or “If, perhaps, I could eliminate $50,000 in unnecessary overhead in 90 days . . .” etc., “. . . might I then be seriously considered for the raise / bonus / promotion I have requested?” Such “triggers of value” are very powerful negotiation techniques. See our newsletter entitled “For a Raise or Promotion, use Triggers of Value” in our Blog’s Newsletter Library, under the heading “Raise, Bonus or Compensation.”

5. Consider proposing: “Can we meet again next week, so I can consider your views?” Although “Take it or leave it” invites an immediate decision on your part – one way or the other – it may be wisest to make no decision at all at this time. Instead, it may be to your best advantage to put off any decision. More time allows for more thought, circumstances to change, even the employer might have a change of heart. This is a variation on “keep the conversation going” that might be used if your employer says, “No more talk.”

6. However, “Don’t beat a dead horse.” By this old phrase, we simply mean, “When it’s over, it’s over.” If, despite all of your attempts, you are still left with “Take it or leave it,” accept, at least for the moment, that you should do just that. If that happens to you, we suggest you do as Denise did, and as Denise is happy she did: “Take it and leave it.” But remember one thing: emotional appeals, expressions of anger, and threats to start a lawsuit, are to be 100% avoided, because without a doubt, each will be harmful to your interests, hurtful to your chances of getting a new job elsewhere, and entirely self-defeating. Remember that “The best revenge is living well.”

7. A Final Note: Don’t Forget that Working Relations are Two-Way Streets. Just as your employer saying “Take it or leave it” is unnecessary, and unnecessarily harmful to the working relation, so too is it harmful when an employee says it. When employees express “Take it or leave it” they usually say it this way, “Give me a raise or I will quit.” It’s got the same effect, no matter which side says it, and how it’s said. Never threaten to quit if you don’t get what you want; if you’re going to quit, don’t give advance warning. Threatening to quit rarely works for more than the time it takes for your employer to find a replacement for you. Just like Denise left her employer, your employer might hire Denise to replace you. Wise negotiating does not close doors unnecessarily . . . or before you’re prepared to walk out on your own best timing.

SkloverWorkingWisdom™ emphasizes smart negotiating – and navigating – for yourself at work. Negotiation of work and career issues requires that you be prepared for however your employer might respond to your requests, and be prepared to respond, in turn. “Take it or leave it” is one possible employer response, and one that you must be prepared for.

Always be proactive. Always be creative. Always be persistent. 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 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.

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