“In business, you don't get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.” - Chester L. Karrass
Children are born negotiators – They focus on their goals with dogged persistence until every avenue is exhausted before they give up. They also unfailingly and enthusiastically set new goals as circumstances change.
What erodes this innate ability? I am always puzzled by the general reluctance of business folk to negotiate a better deal, especially when it concerns a promotion, a raise or a more a favourable contract. Instead, people choose to remain silent, walk away or quit a perfectly good job. Why is this?
In a perfect world, that people should be rewarded for good work is a no-brainer. Yet it is an equally human desire to secure the best deal at the lowest possible price. Few would point out to a vendor, for example, that prices are too low, or that a service fee really needs to be raised. So too in the workplace, many managers or employers, accountable to bottom line profit margins, are happy to secure input for the best price. It takes a forward thinking supervisor initiate a raise or promotion for someone just because they deserve it.
Best business practice theories remind us that workplace retention goes hand in hand with incentive and reward. These are perhaps part of the problem. Written policies outlining succession and salary structures create the expectation that individual salary and promotion issues will automatically be taken care of according to set procedure. At the same time many managers/supervisors/owners complacently think to promote/raise salaries only when really necessary.
Added to the mix, the massive hiring/lay-off cycles witnessed in past decades, as well as the constant post buy-out/sell-off reorganizations, have created a lingering malaise - The average worker is permanently alert to the potential jeopardy of his/her position. There is perhaps a pervasive anxiety that asking for more or seeming entitled will result being placed on the expendable list?
People are naturally fearful when the outcome of an interaction is uncertain. Just as with interview situations, the possibility of rejection and perceived humiliation of a failed negotiation is daunting for most. It is easier to avoid confrontation, hoping the desired outcome will just appear. The resultant problem is that buried frustration festers and grows into deep-seated discontent, eventually flaring into misdirected conflict over unrelated issues. A more common consequence would be a passive-aggressive quit and stay attitude that eventually poisons the office environment.
How much better to confront career advancement issues rationally when they arise! To do this the individual employee should be prepared to negotiate in a rational manner, with a built-in preparedness for success or failure. The outcome of negotiation will then dictate a course of action based on actual, not perceived realities.
Potentially Useful Guidelines
Consider the following as a suggested awareness check-list to prepare for an effective career advancement negotiation:
• Appreciate the current net market worth of your individual experience, competencies, personality and aspirations in a specific work environment
• Understand the financial and operational realities/limitations of your organization and industry
• Set firm, articulate objectives/goals that will be the focus of any negotiation
• Be aware of the negotiation playing field (who will be your negotiation opponent/party; what are the personality/historical factors that need to be taken into account)
• Maintain preparedness to compromise (unwillingness to compromise changes the prospective interaction from negotiation to aggression)
Confrontation VS Conflict
Directly asking for what is deserved is not conflict. It is the inherent right of any employee to seek advancement. Assertive behavior, however, is the balancing of individual needs with those of the employer. Negotiating while in a desperate financial or emotional state drastically increases the risk of confrontation escalating into conflict.
Unfortunately our personal requirements are not always uppermost in the minds of busy managers/executives. As many assume that silence equals contentment, we would do well to remember that we are responsible for keeping our requirements on the corporate radar screen…In good time!
When training individuals to negotiate, I rely heavily on Benoit Mandelbrot and his Fractal Geometry of Nature (see the Mandelbrot Set) Theory that illustrates how chaotic enormity contains smaller versions of the same phenomenon… “Fractal property of self-similarity applies to the entire set, and not just to its parts.” Mandelbrot asserts for example that if the pattern of the smallest leaf is understood, so too is every leaf on the tree. Think of the process a child would follow if negotiating for an ice cream or a go-kart ride… The principles are exactly the same when the ante is upped!