man talking in a meeting

The Fine Art of Negotiation

How to handle six of the trickiest situations, from getting a better price to asking for a raise.

In the business world, pretty much everything is negotiable. But to get what you want, you have to negotiate well. Whether you want to get a raise, close a deal or implement a new process, you need to come to a mutual agreement. It’s more art than science. 

Like any collaborative relationship, it’s an ongoing process of making sure both parties are satisfied. Here’s how to negotiate in a variety of tough situations.

Making the Case for a Promotion

A performance review is a good time to bring up taking on more responsibilities—and the title that goes with that.

“Discuss long-term career aspirations with your manager and learn what qualifications are necessary to reach the next level. Then look for ways to go beyond your current role by volun­teering for stretch assignments that impact the company’s bottom line,” suggests Steve Saah, executive director at Robert Half Finance & Accounting.

Keep in mind that not all employers are in a position to award promotions with raises right now, Saah adds. If a salary increase isn’t possible, consider negotiat­ing other perks—such as a compressed workweek or professional development opportunities—and ask to revisit your compensation when the organization is on firmer financial ground.

Angling for More Vacation Time or Another Benefit

If you want more time off, offer your manager a deal by tying it to a specific achievement, suggests Calloway Cook, president of Illuminate Labs. For example: If you sell X units next month, you earn three more vacation days.

“Just asking for more time off with no reason for it to be granted won’t go over well,” Cook says. Tying the request to accomplishments stresses your impor­tance to the company.

If your initial request isn’t granted, consider coming up with alternative options that work for both parties.

Asking for a Raise

“The best time to schedule a raise chat is after you’ve made significant contributions to the company,” advises Ciara Hautau, lead digital marketing executive at Sparro, a marketing agency. “Did you keep a client happy and coming back for more? Did you run a campaign that brought in tons of business? Did you negotiate a new contract? Strike while the iron is hot.”

Come into the meeting with a short presentation highlighting what you’ve done and, most importantly, emphasize the ROI of your actions.

“Almost anyone can execute on a series of tasks, but it’s the impact that’s really going to give you a chance at a raise,” Hautau says.

Even though you’re talking about money, do your best not to get emotional.

“I find it’s always best to use a calm, conversational tone,” Hautau says. “Also, be sure to ask for a number that’s a bit higher than what you’re looking for. In most cases, the employer will negotiate it down, which will hopefully be your ideal salary.”

Implementing a New Process

Pitching a new process at work involves gathering data, Hautau says. Identify the issues with the current process, such as slowness or redundancy. Then create thorough documentation of your new process and explain it, demonstrating that you have thought through a step-by-step methodology that can be shared.

If higher-ups are still hesitant? “Ask to run an experiment where you can prove the value of the new process,” Hautau says. “It should have little risk to them and high reward.”

70% of managers expect candidates to negotiate salary.
— Robert Half

Getting a Contract Signed

Share your rates for the following year, suggests Bobby Reed, CEO of Capitol Tech Solutions. This can help prompt customers to lock in the lower rate now. That active dialogue is part of the relationship-building process.

“We always put end dates on our contracts, so potential customers can’t come back after a year and ask for the same price,” Reed says.

Consider the constraints for both parties and what deadlines they need to make. You want to give the customer the time they need to approve the con­tract, but sometimes negotiations can drag on for months.

“Finalizing a contract is tough,” Reed says. “Following up is good, but sometimes you have to put a little gentle pressure on them.”

He lets them know the company’s pipeline is getting filled, so if they have a deadline they want to hit, they need to sign the contract ASAP.

Negotiating a Better Price

When vendors quoted a price to Dave Mason, CEO of e-commerce retailer The Knobs Company, he just assumed that’s what everybody paid and accepted it. This went on for years before he realized that negotiating a better price required him to ask better questions.

One query Mason loves: What’s the lowest price that any of your customers get? Be prepared, however, for a vendor to decline to reveal this.

“The first time I asked, I didn’t actually think I’d get an answer, but I usually did,” he says. “Then I’d follow up and ask what I needed to do to get that same pricing level.”

When a vendor won’t go any lower, Mason shifts gears and asks how he could get a lower shipping rate or co-op advertising reimbursements.

“I never lost a relationship for asking questions, but I certainly overpaid for years by not asking,” he says.

And negotiations aren’t always about price, but added value. For example, can you get an increased service level? Additional training from the vendor? The key point: Don’t be shy. You’ll never get the answer if you don’t ask the question.

Cover image by Headway/Unsplash

Image by Charles Deluvio/Unsplash
Negotiating Tips for the Conflict-Averse

Don’t shy away from asking for what you want and asking your negotiating partners what they want, too. Follow these tips to get your voice heard.

Embrace your introverted nature by using natural pauses for your benefit, suggests Nate Masterson, CEO of Maple Holistics. “Instead of feeling like you have to fill every gap in conversation and rush through your case, take your time and allow for some silences. This helps you appear more confident.” 

Consider what the absolute worst outcome could be, suggests Cindy McGovern, CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting. “Most likely, the worst thing that could happen if you ask for a raise or anything else is that you’ll hear a no. And that’s not really so bad.” 

Don’t wing it—you’ll be even more nervous. “Practice what you’ll say,” McGovern suggests. “Know the reasons why you deserve what you’re asking for.”

Think about whether you truly deserve what you’re requesting, McGovern adds. “If, in your heart of hearts, you know you don’t deserve it, don’t ask for it. But you probably do deserve it, and if you can embrace that, the ask will be much easier.”

Maintain eye contact—even if you’re on video, wear comfortable clothes and avoid unnecessary fidgeting, suggests Victor Fredung, CEO of Shufti Pro. “This will help signal to the other party that you’re serious and mean business.”