Interests, not Rights

A few weeks ago a friend reached out for help with a negotiation at work.  He leads a growing organization.  As he takes on more responsibility, he wants to be fairly compensated.

His supervisor came to one of his peers in a similar role with a compensation offer that felt low–a 2% raise for a substantial increase in responsibility.  My friend was having a discussion in the next week; his supervisor stated that their conversation would not be a negotiation.

Here’s the advice I gave:

Everything is a negotiation.  Everything is a negotiation.  If you hear “No, I’m not willing to negotiate,” it could mean:

  • you need to listen better to your counter-party’s needs
  • you haven’t offered the right thing yet
  • with the strength of your current alternatives you already have the best deal available.

But it doesn’t mean that negotiation isn’t possible–and knowing that is the first step towards getting more of what you want.

Put the right issues on the table.  When my friend explained the situation to me, the only issue he mentioned was compensation.  Naturally, because his manager focused this issue, it will likely be the most difficult place to claim value.  Any other issues he can put on the table will be easier places for his manager to give.  These could include title, external title, work responsibilities, time-off, non-base salary compensation, exposure opportunities, senior leader mentorship, high-profile projects, executive presentations, external speaking engagements.  All of these will give him more leverage in the next negotiation, and be easier ways for his manager to give.  Managers are likely to be incredibly concerned about precedent–the concern that a single negotiation will raise their costs for all their direct reports.  Anything my friend can do to strengthen his own differentiation at low cost to his manager will help him in the long run.

Focus on interests, not rights.  When I find myself in a tense situation, it’s easy to focus on rights, or even threats.  I find myself saying “It’s only fair…” or “I deserve…”, or even “If you do that, then….”  Bringing up rights or threats inspires defensiveness and damages the relationship.  Difficult as it is, negotiations go better when you can stay in a mindset of abundance.  Focus on interests.  Use phrases like “I see…” or “I’d like…”, or “I’d be interested in…”

Lastly, remember to preserve the relationship.  If you’re negotiating compensation, the long term relationship is incredibly important.  Listen carefully to what your counter-party conveys, and take action accordingly.  Over time, knowledge of what a manager really cares about is likely to be far more valuable than the outcome of a single bargaining session.

Happy negotiations, and take care!


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