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How to navigate four common negotiation roadblocks

Did your boss get defensive when you asked for a raise? Here are some pointers on how to respond.

How to navigate four common negotiation roadblocks
[Photo: Flickr user mrvacbob]

Did you negotiate your last job offer? It’s well-documented that many people simply don’t try to negotiate, despite the fact that it can significantly boost your earnings over the course of your career. In a Glassdoor survey from 2016, 68% of women reported not negotiating their last salary offer while 52% of men did the same.

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There are a number of reasons people steer clear of negotiation, from being afraid of hearing no to feeling unequipped to negotiate. According to Ify Walker, the CEO and founder of the Offor Walker Group, a talent matchmaking firm, a key part of successful negotiation is laying the groundwork for it prior to even taking a job, asking questions about how people progress at the company, and what the process of getting a raise entails. “Before you take an offer, you have so much power, but people don’t know that,” Walker says. “Get as much information as you can upfront, and try to negotiate when reviews will happen, if you can.”

But not everyone enters a negotiation with that knowledge. Here are some of the roadblocks you may encounter, and how best to address them.

Roadblock 1: Your boss is unhappy you’re negotiating

When you negotiate with your boss, it can feel intimidating to push back on an offer. Let’s say you’ve been offered a raise and want to negotiate for more money. For starters, brace yourself. “Be prepared for negative reactions and don’t take any of those things personally,” Walker says. “Even the best intentioned leaders are likely to get defensive.”

If your boss gets irked that you’re negotiating, she suggests you find a way to lower the temperature. One tactic is to say outright that you’re not trying to negotiate, but that you’ve spoken to higher-ups who have said this is the typical salary range. (Better still if those people are at the same level as your boss.) Then you pose a statement question, Walker says, such as: “I would love to understand what the opportunity is to get to that number.”


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


If you’re a woman trying to negotiate, Walker actually recommends calling attention to it. “I just flat out say, ‘Research shows that people do not like it when women negotiate. But I hope you understand that I need to do it anyway,'” she says. “That automatically changes the conversation because nobody wants to be that person.” It may sound blunt, but Walker sees it as an invitation for the person you’re negotiating with to do better than their peers. “It’s a way of just recognizing the barrier that’s in front of you, and getting the person in front of you on your team,” she says.

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Roadblock 2: Your employer can’t afford to pay you more

Maybe you’ve tried to negotiate a raise or offer but are at an impasse. That’s why Walker always recommends thinking about more than just salary. “I think most people want to feel they can give you something,” she says. “So I would just advise: Come to the table with more things than just money.” With a new job offer, this can be even more important, since you don’t want to soil a relationship if you’re negotiating directly with your would-be boss. If a salary bump is out of the question, you might be able to negotiate flexible hours or other benefits—or even an assist to help repay your student loans.

But in terms of securing a pay increase, Walker says the best course of action would be to negotiate a salary review in six months, to “get more sooner.” (This is where it’s also useful to understand how the company usually conducts reviews or raise discussions, so you know what to request.) Asking for a review can be particularly helpful when you’re low on experience and can’t easily negotiate a salary increase right off the bat. This way, you get a chance to prove yourself and show results—and on a timeline that works for you.

Roadblock 3: You still don’t get more when at your salary review

Say you accept a lower offer because your employer can’t pay you more and you really want (or need) to take the offer. But when it comes time for a review, your employer still won’t budge. Walker herself experienced this at a previous job, where she had negotiated a salary review. When she asked for a raise six months in, she was told, “You are a bulldog. You just don’t let up.” She was finally awarded a raise, but still felt didn’t match her contributions. Eventually she decided to just quit.


Related: How to negotiate anything–from people who have done it


Walker knows this is isn’t an option for everyone. But it can be a necessary step if your employer won’t make good on its word. “You need to know when it’s time for you to move on and get out of a situation where your contributions are not being valued,” Walker says. “I think people stay too long sometimes.”

If leaving isn’t an option, you should continue to make every effort to secure a raise—even if your company is strapped for cash—or otherwise boost your compensation. But more importantly, you should be loud about your contributions, both at your company and beyond. “Make sure that internal teams know you’re doing good work, as well as others outside of your organization,” Walker says.

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Roadblock 4: Your company doesn’t have a formal review process

For people who are earlier in their career, the prospect of asking for a raise or negotiating a job offer can be particularly daunting. That’s even more likely if your company has no formal review process to use as a jumping off point for negotiation. But Walker says this is no excuse.

“I tell everyone to track your performance,” Walker says. “Gone are the days of ‘my employer doesn’t do this or that.’ It doesn’t matter. You are your own business, and you have to track your own performance.” If your company doesn’t do performance reviews, it’s up to you to create that for yourself. “You just say, ‘I’d love to have a conversation with you about my performance. Can you schedule time to do that?'” Walker says. “And you make sure it’s not tied to another conversation or a regular check-in.” Then, you can ask to schedule a subsequent conversation solely to discuss a promotion or raise.


Related: Understand these 3 things before you go into a negotiation


Walker believes one of the biggest mistakes people—women in particular—make while negotiating is asking for a salary bump and then trying to explain. “Be comfortable just saying the number,” she says. “Stop explaining yourself. State your range, and then stop talking.” How do you get there? Practice makes perfect. Walker’s advice: Script out what you’re going to say, then run your lines. “If you practice, your mind is just freer,” she says. “You hear that question that you practiced, and you’re almost excited.”

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About the author

Pavithra Mohan is an assistant editor for Fast Company Digital. Her writing has previously been featured in Gizmodo and Popular Science magazine.

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