Career Negotiations: Power Tools to Use

by Joni Daniels

  • Have you been working for the same employer for three plus years with excellent performance evaluations? Do you want to negotiate a salary increase beyond the annual cost of living raise? Do you anticipate your boss will tell you that earnings are static and the company can’t afford it?
  • Do you want to cut back to a four-day week due to family obligations that require more of your focus? Do you imagine your boss getting angry when you try to broach the subject? Do you expect your boss to state that there are head count issues and you are needed full time?
  • Do you want the high profile assignments but are never considered. The last time you asked, your boss said you are not perceived as someone who should be getting those kinds of assignments.

Unless you are facing any of the above workplace scenarios, you may believe in the old saying “Ask and you shall receive”. Asking for what you want, however, is not always as important for your employer as it is for you. And it’s rarely easy. Beth Ann Wilson, Career Consultant, reports savvy professionals often ask for advice on how to handle workplace negotiations. Next time you are preparing to ask for what you want at work, bring along your Power Tools to negotiate for what you want, and often deserve.

Tools to Use

    Safety Goggles – Have a clear picture of the dollar value of your work. Be clear about the value impact you will have on the organization. Focus on your proven commitment (“I’m pleased I’ve been able to accomplish…”) and the potential you have to make contributions in the future. (“I am confident that my future contributions will encompass…” )

    Power Drill – Ask questions that provide you with valuable information to build the business case. Why won’t they want to do what you are asking? Are there company politics that come into play? Has this been tried before? If so, what was the outcome (and if it was an unfavorable one, what can you suggest to insure there won’t be a repeat performance)? Timing can be a critical factor; avoid bringing up an issue for negotiation after you’ve made a mistake or the company has lost a major client. Mention the topic after you have completed something successfully.
    Does your boss have the power to create a solution? Even if the boss does not have decision power, you still have to gain support. Take it to your boss first to champion your cause and to be your advocate. Ask “What do you need from me to help make a case for this?”
    If you are trying to challenge a policy or set a new precedent, prepare to point out why you are NOT like everyone else. Remember, your boss may think that if you do it then “everyone will want to do it”.

    Electrical Sensor – Pick up style clues from your manager. What is the best way to approach your manager? You want the conversation to be calm, not with sparks flying. If your boss likes to review written material before making a decision, do not put your request in writing before your conversation. Instead, offer to put in writing what has been agreed upon after you’ve discussed the subject and talked about possible options. Use your ears as sensors, listen well and make sure you are clear about any concerns.

    Tape Measure – Know your limits. Identify the point where the outcome is unacceptable. That will be your bottom line. Measuring out your bottom line in terms of how flexible you can be will help you stay above it. Phasing in an increase, a trial period with periodic reviews, or enlisting a mentor to get you through the probationary period can be creative ways to move toward your goal.
    Measure your timing. Some times situations present themselves for a negotiation and the window of opportunity is only open for a finite amount of time. You need to be prepared. Think of what you would like to negotiate and keep your eyes and ears open. A new project, a sudden business downturn, or a change in someone else’s employment status due to maternity leave or promotion can be good timing to start the conversation. If you aren’t ready, the opening might pass, or someone else will take advantage of the opportunity before you get your chance.
    Measure your words, and check your measurements. You do not want to sound like you are handing down an ultimatum. Try not to get carried away, and avoid phrases like “or else.” Don’t make your request conditional. Set a follow up date, not a deadline.

    Duct Tape - Have a back up plan. Before you start this conversation, know what your Plan B (or C, or D) is so you can approach the negotiation with confidence and not get backed into a corner. Patch together a plan such as not dropping to part time right away, but work out an arrangement that allows for flextime a few days a week.

When It Works
Employing these strategies and skills can support your efforts to manage your career more proactively, so that the results of the opening scenarios could be:

  • You negotiate phasing in small increases over each quarter so by the time of your next performance review, you are positioned where you expected to be.
  • You agree to a four-day workweek for a trial period of two months, where you are accessible by phone, and email on the 5th day. You and your boss will evaluate at the two-month mark to identify challenges and make a decision about a more permanent arrangement.
  • A seasoned colleague in your department announces her desire to retire in three months. You take advantage of the timing to request a high profile assignment. You arrange to work closely with the colleague before she retires, to monitor your progress, provide coaching as needed, and validate your ability to take on more work in the future.

Career negotiations are not unlike any other negotiation. You need to determine the issues before you discuss them. For each issue, be clear about your value proposition, state the business case, and know your bottom line. Think about what concerns will be raised and be ready to address them so that they are not obstacles to reaching an agreement. You may have to have more than one conversation to achieve the desired outcome. Therefore, you will need to be persistent and be prepared to exercise patience. Times DO change, so once you have a strategy, plug in your power tools before engaging in a job remodeling. When you manage career negotiations well you and your organization will be pleased with the results.

Joni Daniels,M.S. Ed, is Principal of Daniels & Associates, a consulting practice in the Baltimore area that specializes in Management Training and Development. A nationally recognized trainer, professional speaker, consultant, author, and entrepreneur, Joni has helped professionals at all levels to develop effective interpersonal skills. For more information, please visit www.jonidaniels.com or contact joni@jonidaniels.com

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