Improve Your Negotiations With The 5 Golden Rules.   LEARN THEM

The two most expensive letters in the English alphabet are “O.K.,” which is how many respond when offered a raise. After all, many don’t want to appear greedy or unappreciative by asking for more – even when you deserve it.

It can also be scary, as there is always a risk your boss will react negatively and perceive your ask as communicating unhappiness and disenchantment. Worst case scenario, they might even see it as a signal you don’t want to work there and look to replace you (a bad Plan B for you, assuming you want to stay).

What should you do? In How to Negotiate a Raise (Part One), I suggested you should develop a written Strategic Negotiation Plan for this possibly life-changing negotiation and work through my Five Golden Rules of Negotiation. In doing this, you should pay particular attention to:

1. Emphasize your relationship as a goal (GR 1: Information is Power-So Get It!)

2. Rarely focus on leverage (GR2: Maximize Your Leverage)

Also work through Golden Rules 3.5. 

3. Put a “fair” hat on your head with independent standards (GR3: Employ “Fair” Objective Criteria)

Perhaps the most effective move in raise negotiations – assuming you want to stay with your employer – involves you identifying independent, objective standards and benchmarks to support your request. Justify your raise as “fair and reasonable” because:

  • the market value of your job based on or other compensation-related sites supports it;
  • independent credible experts such as human resource consultants or compensation experts conclude it;
  • your and/or similar employers have paid others with comparable positions and responsibilities commensurate with your request;
  • the cost-of-living or inflation in your area has increased by this amount;
  • you have generated substantially greater profits or efficiency for your employer than your salary plus your requested raise (this standard often underlies bonuses); and/or
  • a combination of these.

Tying your moves to standards like these depersonalizes the negotiation – a crucial element in dealing with others with whom you want a future relationship. Bottom line: you just want what’s “fair” based on the market, precedent, etc.

4. Make Non-Aggressive Moves (GR4: Design an Offer-Concession Strategy)

When and how does your employer usually offer raises? Do they accompany performance reviews or end-of-year reports? Does your employer typically make the first move? Is its first move usually its last, or is there often some back-and-forth?

Find out these patterns. Why? Such patterns often drive parties’ expectations, and parties’ expectations often drive everyone’s behavior.

Of course, you can change or impact these patterns. I often recommend that parties seeking a raise strongly consider making the first move even though this may be atypical. If you’ve done your homework and know the market and standards, you will have a disproportionate impact on your employer’s expectations. This can be very beneficial.

You should also give your employer some room to move too, before ending up at your goal.

5. Ask over a meal and follow up in writing (GR5: Control the Agenda)

When should you meet, what should you discuss and in what order, where should it happen, how should you communicate, and with whom should you engage? Here are my general recommendations.

  • When: If you’re going to make the first move, do it slightly before your employer takes the initiative and makes its offer to you. Account for the patterns.
  • What to discuss and in what order: Don’t start by just asking for more money. Instead, consider exploring what you can do to be even more effective and valuable. Then commit to it, showing you want to stay and help your boss and company achieve even greater success. Also, it is almost always preferable to discuss the financial after the non-financial elements or in a package. Spend sufficient time setting the tone and rapport-building, too, even though you may know your boss well.
  • Where: Ideally meet over a meal outside the office. Studies going back to the 1920s have concluded that this “luncheon technique” works. It’s also especially helpful as it’s harder for counterparts to say “no” in person in an informal relationship-oriented environment (assuming it’s good food!).
  • How to communicate: Don’t do this by email, phone, or virtually if you can avoid it. And probably follow up your in-person meeting with an email detailing your request and benchmarks.
  • With whom to meet: It’s often helpful to meet with the decision-maker, but there may be a compensation committee or HR department involved. This is another reason to follow up in writing.

This is really hard. But it’s worth it! A 2017 study by Business Insider found that “[n]egotiating your starting salary – and continuing to negotiate every few years or when you start a new job – could make a $1 million difference in your lifetime earnings.”

Think how much an additional $1 million or more will make to your life satisfaction and/or retirement.

Latz’s Lesson:  Raise negotiations can be extremely challenging, so put that “fair” hat on your head with benchmarks, don’t make super aggressive moves, and consider when, where, how, what to discuss and with whom to meet.


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