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SMaRT Strategies for Negotiating Salary, Work Issues and Personal Issues

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“If your first objective in the negotiation, instead of making your argument, is to hear the other side out, that’s the only way you can quiet the voice in the other guy’s mind. But most people don’t do that.” ~ Christopher Voss, FBI Negotiator & Businessman

You may negotiate several times a day in both your work and personal life without thinking about it: when you get your 2-year-old to eat breakfast; you exchange money for that cup of coffee you bring into the office; you avoid colliding with cars and people and they avoid colliding with you; you listen to a colleague’s or team member’s problem and figure out a solution; and on and on. 

However, some negotiations stick out in your mind for the stress and anxiety they cause:

  • Negotiation of your salary
  • Negotiation of a work issue
  • Negotiation of a personal issue.

When you negotiate, keep in mind these five stages: preparation (information gathering), exchange of information, bargaining, the conclusion of negotiation (reaching an agreement), and execution of the agreement. If, for example, you agree to a conclusion that is beyond your power to execute, you have not really concluded the negotiation. Those five stages are at the heart of every negotiation.

Negotiation of Salary

Negotiating salary may not always be successful but it is common. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 51% of people negotiate salary at some time in their career, whether during the hiring phase or during performance reviews. Men are more likely to negotiate than women, primarily because women are not aware that the opportunity to negotiate is available. Younger employees are also more apt to negotiate than older employees, perhaps because of more awareness or perhaps because they have more incentive at the start of a career than later on.

The key to a successful salary negotiation is to:

  • Know your value. There are two approaches to knowing your value. The first, and most important, is to research the current salary level for the position in that industry and location; the second is to hone your SMaRT strategies for assertiveness and self-confidence. Practice standing and sitting with confidence.
  • Instigate the salary talk. Negotiation of salary during the hiring process should come up organically. After you are hired, any negotiation of salary should be at your instigation, well before the boss has already settled on a number. You might choose a time when you have successfully completed a major project or otherwise demonstrated your worth. 
  • Present your numbers. Ask for the top salary for someone with your background, in your industry, and in your location. By mentioning your number first, you (not the hiring manager or boss) establish the number where negotiations start. One strategy is to offer a precise number like $85,500 rather than a round number ($85,000) to show that you have a well-researched figure in mind. Experts disagree on whether you should mention a range ($85,500 to $95,500) but do agree on a $10,000 range. 
  • Present your case. Review your accomplishments, bring forth any commendations by the company, vendors, outside groups, or your customers, list skills you have acquired, cite specific numbers related to your efforts, and indicate any future contributions you have in mind.
  • Remember the do not’s: Do not threaten to quit. Do not mention personal issues (“we have a new baby on the way”). Do not bully or talk over the other side; you are seeking a win-win solution, not trying to force your way forward. Don’t be afraid to keep negotiating if too low a number is mentioned; you don’t have to accept the first counter-offer or even the first “no.” Don’t burn bridges; you may not be able to negotiate the salary you wanted—or any increase at all—but you do need to continue working.
  • Accept a different reward. If your negotiation of salary stalls, would you be happy with more vacation time, a higher title, tuition support, or some other benefit? 
  • Be professional and gracious. Ask for time if you need time to consider an offer, especially when negotiating a salary with a hiring manager. Always ask for a salary offer in writing; promises are worth exactly as much as the paper they aren’t written on. Thank the hiring manager or boss for their time. You will be probably be negotiating with this person in the future, and you want your reputation for firmness, accuracy, professionalism, fairness, and grace to precede you.

TIP: Caps on salary or increases are rarely true caps. However, your expectations as well as your data, must be in line with reality. For example, if the company has specified a range for the position in their job posting or advertisement, you are unlikely to more them far beyond the top figure mentioned.

Negotiation of Work Issues

The Harvard Law School has identified four types of negotiators: individualists are chiefly concerned with how they well they themselves emerge from a negotiation (about 50% of students and business people surveyed); cooperators are looking for a win-win (about 35%); competitors want to win by the largest possible margin (about 10%); and altruists want to maximize the benefit for the other party (relatively few in the population surveyed). 

Knowing your own style and the other person’s style goes a long way to determining how you will handle a negotiation of work issues. Set a cooperator to negotiate with a competitor and you can see how the conversation might bog down. 

As a manager, you may negotiate deadlines, roles, conflicts, decisions, budgets, or processes with team members, vendors, customers, peers, bosses, and other business units. In truth, negotiation has become an increasingly important skill as workplaces, customers, and families become more diverse and inclusive and as change has become more rapid and stressful.

Your role in the negotiation of work issues may be mediator, persuader, decision maker, fixer, subject matter expert, or chief opponent. Assuming you lack an entire team of negotiators (as you might have in negotiating with a union or during a merger, for example), you may find yourself shifting roles during the negotiation.

The following are basic SMaRT strategies to follow in any work issue negotiation:

  • Research. For example, if you are negotiating price with a vendor, research alternatives to understand the alternative products, functions, and delivery options that might be available.
  • Set your goal. What is the best you can hope for and the least you can expect? What do you want to accomplish? What will you do if negotiating fails?
  • Listen. Your communication and conflict resolution skills come into play here, especially your active listening skills. Your perspective or research into the issues may not be complete or may be distorted by your own self-interest. 
  • Be precise. Be clear about your role, what you would like, and the reasons for your stance. Make sure you are clear about the other party’s priorities and desires. Mindfulness and emotional intelligence are important strategies before, during, and after negotiations.
  • Avoid threats. You may not get what you want from this negotiation, but you will probably face this same individual again. By avoiding threats, behaving professionally, and keeping calm, you set the stage for the successful negotiation of future work issues.

TIP: Make sure both parties agree on next steps after the negotiation ends. For example, will the decision of an arbiter be final? Will the contending parties have to refer to other people before the negotiated result is finalized? What will be put in writing?  

Negotiation of Personal Issues

One person you may find extremely difficult to negotiate with is yourself. Whether you are negotiating to break a bad habit or reward yourself for good habits or building yourself up for a difficult conversation or reassuring yourself after a failure, you negotiate with yourself all the time. You judge your ability, behavior, chances of success, and reasons for failure and you try to figure out a way to live comfortably with your expectations and the results. You may bargain with a higher spiritual power or fate or luck and go through all the stages of explaining why you deserve what you are asking for, what you will do in exchange, and how the other party will benefit.

The second hardest person to negotiate with is someone you feel strong emotions about. One advantage of salary and work negotiations is that at least one of the parties is usually charged with being objective and calm. In personal negotiations, the emotional context may bring into play trust, core values, fear, control, and feelings of support, and love, as well as coping and self-management skills.

When you negotiate personal issues:

  • Commit to negotiating. If you decide that negotiation of a personal issue is useless and automatically concede every issue, then of course you will lose the negotiation. If you decide that you must prevail regardless of anyone else’s feelings or needs, then you are merely pretending to negotiate. Either way, the relationship will suffer from simmering resentments.
  • Stay in the present. If you find the negotiation wandering off course, bring it back to the present rather than traipsing through the past. Stop any negotiation that escalates to verbal conflict, giving everyone time to practice mindfulness and body awareness and reduce their level of stress.
  • Don’t keep score. A negotiation of personal issues is not a contest to see who can win the most concessions or the most arguments.
  • Don’t take a poll. Regardless of whether every other parent, child, partner, spouse, friend or online expert agrees with you, the person you are negotiating with has their own feelings and perspective—and that is what you should respect and concentrate on understanding.
  • Keep an open mind about compromise. If you like bowling and your partner likes hang gliding, many compromises are available: hang glide on clear days, bowl on rainy days; each of you does what you like best and meets to discuss your experiences over lunch; spend an appropriate time each day on each activity; don’t participate but serve as a cheerleader for the other person; and so on. 

TIP: You are always allowed to walk away from a negotiation, especially if it involves compromising your core values or your safety and well-being. However, give negotiation a chance first. If necessary, call in a professional to mediate and provide guidance on successful negotiation.

Key Takeaways

You negotiate many times a day, often without realizing it. Negotiations of salary, work issues, and personal issues may lead to stress, resentment, or escalating conflict unless you follow the basic rules of gathering information, understanding the goals of all parties, communicating clearly, being willing to compromise, following through on agreements, and showing mutual respect regardless of outcome.

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