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How to prepare for the three most common types of negotiation at work

Preparation is crucial no matter what you’re negotiating. But you might need to adapt how you prepare depending on your objective.

How to prepare for the three most common types of negotiation at work
[Photo: Lucas Davies/Unsplash]

There is one common component that can make or break any negotiation–research and preparation. It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying to make a convincing case for why you deserve a promotion, or whether you’re trying to convince your boss that you need more resources to complete the project that they assigned to your team.

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However,  how you gear up for that negotiation will probably differ case-by-case. You should quantify your achievements, for example, when you ask for a raise. But when you’re trying to tell your boss that you need hire an additional team member, you should focus on what you could achieve if given more resources. Here are three common circumstances where you’ll probably find yourself negotiating at work, and how to prepare in each situation.

1. When you get a job offer

In most cases it’s in your best interest to negotiate when you get a job offer. As Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield previously wrote for Fast Company, many employers admit to lowballing initial offers because they anticipate that the candidate will try to negotiate. In 2011, an article in the Journal of Organizational Behavior found that those who do ask for more end up getting an additional $5,000 a year. That’s a lot of money when you think of how it can compound over the years for future earnings.

So how what kind groundwork do you need to get a better offer? Tracy Saunders, a former recruiter and the founder of the Women’s Job Search Network, tells Fast Company that when it comes to job offer negotiations, the most important thing is to gain as much understanding on that company as possible. Find a trusted colleague, or someone who has formerly worked there and knows the ins and outs of how their compensation system works. If you don’t know anyone, Saunders suggests looking at sites like Quora or forums where people are talking to each other. She discourages candidates from relying too much on sites like Glassdoor or Payscale, just because the comments are not heavily monitored, and without background context, it’s hard to gauge how accurate the reviews are.

Ideally, you should already be doing this research during the interviewing process, says Lisa Gates, negotiation consultant and the cofounder of She Negotiates. You should be digging up everything you can about the company, Gates said. Look at whether they’ve been in the news, their pain points, and do a thorough background search on who will be interviewing you. Before you go into the negotiation, figure out how your past achievements and experience can help the company. Gates also recommends framing these things as a narrative (and have a few up your sleeve)–ideally that contains “crisis, drama, and resolution.”

Identify situations where you fixed something that was broken, says Gates. Ideally, that story should mirror potential situations you might face in your new role. When you communicate to the company your value in terms and language that they understand, it becomes easier to justify why you should be offered a higher salary (or any other terms you might want to ask for.)


Related: Your cheat sheet to negotiating these five perks with your next job offer

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2. When you’re asking for a promotion, or negotiating its terms

It’s true that some companies have their own policies and rules when it comes to promotion–but according to Gates, she still believes that there is still a tendency for companies to see what they can get away with. This is why in a lot of instances, it’s on you, the employee, to make the case for why you deserve a title change and raise.

To an extent, the preparation for promotion conversations are similar to negotiating job offers. Gates tells Fast Company, “talk about the major things that you’ve done that point you in the direction for this process.” This means figuring out how your achievements translates to numbers. Of course, it would be ideal if you can point to an increase in revenue. However, if your job is not directly tied to that, there are other metrics you can use. Laura Breiman, Codecademy’s data science curriculum lead, told Fast Company in an email to think of data as “a common factor to turn your results into numbers.” “Plan to give concrete examples of how your work has moved the business. Think about the things your boss is worrying about. Is it leads? revenue? site traffic? Hone in on one specific metric. As you work toward that goal, build the analysis that attributes your work to this number.”

Gates also emphasized that a “big piece” of that preparation should be “building your influence.” “You have to be networking with everyone you work with in your team and your department, but also managing up and finding out what people need. Let them who you are and what you’re doing. So many people do not do this and they think of it as glad-handing and self-promotion. Well if not you, then who?” When you build relationships with those “who have the ear of the decision maker,” for example, you also can get them to advocate on behalf of you.

Finally, Gates recommends that employees should see the negotiation process as transactional, and relational. It’s not about presenting your demands and not stopping until the other party concedes. It’s about making sure that both parties find a solution that meets both their demands.


Related: How your personality style affects your negotiation style 


3. When you’re asking something you want/need at work

When it comes to negotiating for resources–or even asking your boss for benefits like working remotely or flexible hours, Gates recommends viewing the negotiation prep like putting together a proposal. She tells Fast Company that one should say something along the lines of “I’d like to propose an idea that in order to accomplish this goal, we’re either going to have to do a and b.” She then suggests using that proposition as a brainstorming tool, and being open to other outcomes. “Don’t have it be carved in stone and say, this is the only way it can work,” she warns.

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When you’re preparing the proposal, Gates encourages that you should present the benefits to the company the same way you’d make a case for the promotion. How much money will you save? How much more revenue will you bring? How will your productivity increase? How will this improve your company’s reputation in the market?

At the end of the day, “negotiation is really about value creation and problem solving,” Gates says. Prepare as much as possible in terms of arguing how your solution benefits the company, but “be prepared to improvise with the moving parts.” After all, you’ll be talking to human beings with their own emotions and agendas–and that comes with a level of unpredictability.

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About the author

Anisa is the Assistant Editor for Fast Company's Work Life section. She covers everything from productivity to the future of work

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