What, Exactly, is “Negotiating at Work?”

Nearly every day I meet or speak with new clients who come to my firm seeking help negotiating some aspect of their employment or career. They may be seeking a new title, or a raise, a promotion, a bonus, a larger territory, or even severance. One of our first and most important discussion topics is “What, exactly, do we mean by ‘negotiating at work?'”

When we say “negotiating” most people conjure up a picture of two or more people, seated on opposite sides of a desk or table, haggling over the price of something. It might be a car, or a house, or a watch. One says, “I will pay you X,” and the other says, “No, I want at least Y.” That, to me, is not “negotiating.” Rather, it is “haggling,” a rather inconsequential, late-stage step in the overall negotiation process.

Negotiating is perhaps best explained by using a more “accessible,” more easily understood word: “motivating.” Negotiation is a process of motivating another person to do something that he or she is – at that moment – not inclined to do. Motivation is the essence of negotiation.

Let me offer perhaps a gross and graphic illustration of what I mean: once, without warning, I found myself confronted by someone who placed a sharp metallic object to my throat. Instantly, I was “motivated” to tell that person that (a) there was $100 in my wallet, (b) my watch was gold and valuable, and (c) I had no problem offering up my bank pin number, as well. It wasn’t fun, but I was surely motivated, to do what I could to save my life. Luckily, it worked.

We are all “motivated” to do different things every day. Almost from birth, babies learn how they can motivate sleepy parents to get out of a warm bed on a cold winter’s night, and get whatever it is they want, whether it’s a bottle, a diaper change, or merely a warm hug. It’s simple: they simply say, in their own little way, “I may deprive you of an entire night’s sleep; let’s see how fast you can figure out what will stop my crying?” Parents soon learn to think and act fast, if they want to get any sleep at all that night. Though I went through it decades ago, I remember it well.

So, too, can you motivate your boss to do all he or she can to make you happy, to retain your services, to give you what it is you want. No, it’s not by crying and screaming all night long. Instead, it is by showing that you can make their own lives better, by being hard-working, positive-minded, conscientious, innovative, and skilled at the particular aspects of your job. A valuable team member, a productive asset, a good “investment.” I hate to use the phrase, but a true “human resource.”

Negotiation is motivation. The thing that gives you the power to motivate is what we call “leverage.” At work, leverage is being perceived as being valuable, contributing, collaborative. For a moment, think about Derek Jeter, shortstop for the New York Yankees. Does he have to cry, scream or haggle to get what he wants? No, because he has spent nearly all of his time since sixth grade making himself valuable to his Manager and to his team. And though some say Derek Jeter is really not that great a ballplayer, the way he carries himself, the self-discipline and self-respect that he emanates – the things that make his teammates elect him team captain every year – these are the things that give Derek Jeter great leverage. His hefty compensation is not a result of haggling; no, it is a result of his representing perceived value to his Manager and team.

Negotiating at work is a matter of motivating your boss to want, need, even crave the value you represent to him or her, and the team. The leverage that motivates is the perception that you can do your job, that you are willing to work hard, that you can work with others, that you are not afraid to either use your brain or speak your mind, that you are not “me-centric,” that you help “move the ball ahead.”

Once you do that, the “haggling” is easy. Just ask Derek Jeter.

For great info and insight, consider viewing our 12-minute Sklover-On-Demand Video entitled “Can I Really Negotiate with My Boss?” To do so, just [click here.]

© 2008 Alan L. Sklover. Commercial uses prohibited. All rights reserved and strictly enforced.