The Knack for Negotiation

Negotiating skills: start building them now.

Negotiated anything lately? Odds are that you'll say, "No. I don't need to negotiate except when I'm looking for a job, and I hate doing it then." Although knowing the right way to negotiate when you're in salary discussions is a critical skill, the principles you use in setting your compensation should be the same ones that you know and use with the decisions you're making every day. In reality, you're negotiating constantly.

Ever bought a car? A house? Had teenagers? You're already an expert. Working with end users to decide how a system should be configured is a form of negotiation in itself. Professionals feel that that they can negotiate multimillion-dollar contracts more easily than they can negotiate their own salaries or work conditions. Removing the stigma often boils down to learning some helpful vocabulary and realizing that companies expect you to negotiate. How well will you represent them if you're hesitant to develop a win-win package for yourself? Some ideas to improve your results:

Marketing that works for IT professionals

There are a lot of things you expect from your employer, whether it's the current one or a new one. A good salary is only one of them. You can use the marketing circle shown below to help you think through your needs. On the top, list what your expectations might be. Equity? Challenging work? Flexible hours? Being clear about your expectations now, before you start a discussion, is important. Otherwise, you tweak your expectations to match whatever the company may offer so you can get out of this awkward negotiation phase.

Now lets look at the bottom of the circle. What does an employer want from you? Results? E-commerce expertise? Cultural fit? Boil down all of the answers, and they usually end up in "profitability." The bottom line rules, once again.

Now, the interesting part. When you're negotiating, do you use the top or the bottom of the circle in your conversations? It doesn't take you long to say, "bottom," which is true. The top side of the circle doesn't motivate the decision maker, but it's where the person wanting change typically spends his or her time. Points such as "I have two tuitions to pay for this year" or "I'm getting bored with this work" are on the top of the circle and hand over the problem instead of solving it.

The more ways you can stay on the bottom the circle and demonstrate that you are profitable, the more you'll motivate the employer. Remember, saving money works equally well, as does saving time or people, improving quality or process. Start keeping track of how you have helped your company financially now, before the numbers get buried.

You're into people's WIIFMs on the bottom side of the circle - i.e., What's In It For Me (or them). That's the side that motivates them. Stick exclusively to the company's needs in negotiating your salary or work conditions. Use their vocabulary and their needs in your negotiations, and you get the offers on the table that allow you to meet the needs on your side.

Timing

Have you heard the old saying about "She/he who mentions numbers first loses?" What happens when you answer bluntly when someone first asks you about your salary when you're being interviewed by a company? Odds are that you just eliminated yourself from the running. You are either too high or too low.

How do you answer the standard salary questions, then, if you can't give numbers? You try ducking the first round. "What have I been making? I've been making a good salary. I'm sure you pay competitively, however. What did you have in mind?" Another alternative, "That's a fair question, but can we hold off on that until I have a better feeling for the job and the responsibilities? I'm sure we can work out something if we have a fit." You want to hold off the conversation about numbers as long as possible. Companies can often find money when they want to, but they need to be convinced that you're worth the effort first.

What if you're currently employed and want to negotiate some work or salary conditions? Keep your own track record of your results, as mentioned earlier, and you start building your leverage. There will be times when the power shifts in your job, when you've done an extraordinary job on something, when your boss needs more of your time or expertise on a project. Set up a time to talk about what you'd like to see changed, and how it will benefit your boss or the company. You've just increased your odds of getting your way. You didn't whine, threaten, or cajole. You professionally presented some solutions to your concerns and made them into win-wins.

If you combine good timing, good research, and good incentives for your market, you have just made a giant leap forward to accomplishing your goals. Good luck! Value yourself and others will value you as well.

Pam Lassiter is principal of Lassiter Consulting, a nationwide career services firm.






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