How to Negotiate Your Way to a Better Career

HR leaders get plenty of practice negotiating: They are key participants in discussions about wages, benefits, job offers, labor contracts and restructuring.

But brokering deals on their own behalf—such as asking for a raise, promotion or flexible work arrangement—can feel a lot more difficult. Unlike when you're serving as an "agent" for your organization, this form of bargaining requires having the confidence to advocate for yourself and to proceed without a clear road map."It's hard to get these negotiations started [because] there is no structure for it like there is when you negotiate as an agent," said Deborah Kolb, Ph.D., a research fellow at the Center for Gender in Organizations at the Simmons School of Management and coauthor of Negotiating at Work: Turn Small Wins into Big Gains (Jossey-Bass, 2015).

You can start by getting clear on your own objectives. "You can't get what you want if you don't know what you want," said Kolb, who spoke at the SHRM 2017 Annual Conference & Exposition. Then follow these other career-bolstering negotiating tips:

Don't ask for anything less than what you want.
"[One] way we bargain ourselves down is we make the first concession in our head," she said. Rather, aspire high in what you ask for, and you'll be more likely to get it. "Don't negotiate with yourself. Let them say no."

Know your leverage and find ways to make your value visible. "How do people know what you're accomplishing?" she asked. It's particularly important to highlight your value if you're negotiating to be rewarded or recognized for so-called "invisible work" you took on without any formal acknowledgement.

An obvious way to make your value visible in that scenario is to simply stop doing the extra work—although that can come across as hostile. Or initiate discussion with questions such as "What would happen if I weren't able to do this?"

Realize that negotiation isn't a simple yes or no. Kolb learned this lesson when a former boss offered her a position she didn't think she wanted. When she declined the job, he followed up by asking her what it would take for her to reconsider—a response that surprised her.

"I had always thought of it as yes or no," she said. Instead, she recommended, think about "what is your 'yes, and …'?" When you do that, an array of new options will present themselves. In reconsidering her position, she negotiated for the hiring of an associate director who took on the tasks that didn't appeal to her in the initial job offer.

"Stay with it—no may be just the beginning."

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