leadership incorporated blog

March 12, 2012

How Not to Negotiate: 7 Essential To-Don’ts and To-Dos

Meet Julie, the leading biz dev rep in a privately held med tech company.

Julie had been underpaid in a biz dev support role for 6 years and pressing for more opportunity. In late ‘09, a regional rep quit abruptly and the company offered her the position with a small increase and the promise of a more substantial raise at her review.

After 2 years, Julie had brought in new business that exceeded $1.8 million. In January 2012, the company expanded Julie’s territory. Their proposed new comp package increased her pay by 25%. They seemed to think she would be thrilled.

Julie knew she should be grateful, but she was disappointed and felt undervalued. Because her salary was low to begin with, a 25% increase just didn’t amount to that much. She knew the company had experienced some significant losses in the economic downturn. She didn’t expect to be paid as much as the other top biz dev people in the company, but she did feel she deserved more.

She scheduled a conversation with the CFO and head of HR. She took in a prepared presentation focused on her tenure, her recent success, and what was fair given the increase in responsibility with an additional region to support.

They listened sympathetically but stood their ground: the company had just given her the largest percentage increase they’d ever offered and the budget wouldn’t allow them to do more at this time. Further, they said, the president was concerned that her current region might be depleted and she should be grateful for the additional territory. They would review it again in 12 months.

Julie left the meeting deflated and overwhelmed by her new workload, even as she questioned her own right to feel badly.

Recently, I’ve heard from people, at all levels of other organizations, who are being asked to do more than ever for less than they know they deserve, but who, like Julie, find themselves unable to negotiate a better deal.

Most of them make the same critical mistakes and miss the same powerful opportunities as Julie

7 Essential To-Don’ts and To-Do’s:

  1. Don’t make it about you. Instead, make a business case. Your needs, wants and what’s fair are irrelevant. A business has a fiduciary obligation to make decisions based on what’s best for the business. Figure out how what’s best for you is also best for the business and you’ll be in much better shape.
  2. Don’t negotiate with the wrong people. Get in front of the right decision makers. When you negotiate with people who are responsible only for the budget the conversation can only go so far. You want to talk to people who are responsible for the future.
  3. Don’t let them keep the focus of the conversation on budget and tradition. Control the direction of the conversation. Do this by asking questions that focus on the future, the value of the services you provide and the cost of missed opportunities, i.e., losing you.
  4. Don’t buy into their story of comparison to others or current limits. Have your own story. And make sure it is all about what you can create, the value you plan to bring, and the potential that can be achieved.
  5. Don’t make a one-way presentation. Make it an interactive conversation. Get them talking about what they want, need, fear and hope for. Listen deeply and respond thoughtfully with ways you can create their wants and hopes and reduce their needs and fears.
  6. Don’t focus on the past. Focus on the future from the perspective of the higher level that you want to attain. The past is done and paid for. The way to get more (often unlimited) money is to demonstrate who you can be for them in the future.
  7. Don’t be ignorant about your own value. Do your homework and know and quantify the value you provide. Make sure that the value you provide significantly exceeds the package you want. Get your employer to quantify it for themselves. If you can get them to do the math and see they come out ahead, it’s usually a no-brainer.

The key to effective negotiation is co-creation. Be creative. And, remember, salary isn’t the only negotiable. By the way, all of this applies whether you are negotiating for your career with your employer, for your company with a client or for yourself with your spouse or kids.

Good luck. I’d love to hear about it when you score that big win.

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February 1, 2010

Inspired to Succeed: Are you negotiating against yourself?

Before writing these each week, I reflect on the situations that my clients have presented the week before, looking for themes that might inspire all of us to find new more effective ways of thinking, doing and being in our work and lives.

This week, it seems like everyone is anticipating the worst and then negotiating against themselves before hearing it.

A corporate leader about to make a big presentation to a prospective client even before presenting, began lowering the prices in the presentation out of fear that they would be too high in this economy.

A vice president in transition was ready to lower his base salary, title, and other compensation…before there was even an offer on the table.

A director in transition is looking at positions that are a step down in anticipation that she will have to take a step backwards from the job she lost 3 months ago.

A successfully employed client in a personal struggle with a family member anticipating a “no” was ready to give up on what she wanted before even expressing her wishes in conversation.

Where are you negotiating against yourself? Most of us do this somewhere in our lives.

Here are some tips on how to approach these kinds of situations differently.

  1. Wake up. Start to notice when you go into negotiation with yourself before the actual negotiation with others.
  2. Stop. When you’re actually in a negotiation you may end up conceding certain things. But don’t start giving up before you get into the negotiation.
  3. Cultivate a “How might this be possible?” attitude. Just because the other person wants something different doesn’t mean that there isn’t another option that might satisfy you both.
  4. Engage the other person in finding mutually beneficial solutions.
  5. Know the value you provide. Know how you will be of service and what that service will mean to your partner in the negotiation.
  6. Be committed to providing value that exceeds the price.
  7. Keep YOUR focus on the value you provide throughout. This will help them to keep their focus on the value and not get distracted by the price. (This works even in situations where money is not involved. There is always a price.)
  8. Don’t enter a money discussion until it’s clear that everything else is working for both parties.

Some language you might adapt to do this: “If it’s right, I know we’ll be able to arrive at a mutually agreeable price/compromise. Let’s just make sure we’re both getting what we want before we waste either of our time negotiating.”

By the way, in the situation above that has already resolved, I worked with the VP to stand strongly in his confidence in what he brings to the position. He went into the conversation asking for what he wanted. The company offered a signing bonus and other creative solutions that closed the gap in a satisfactory way. He accepted the offer and begins work this week.

This week, resist the urge to give up anything prematurely.


Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.

— John Fitzgerald Kennedy

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