Negotiating Within Your Job

See also: Personal SWOT Analysis

Many jobs and careers formally require you to have good negotiating skills. If, for example, you are required to arbitrate between two sides in a dispute, or find a compromise for your clients in a legal case, negotiation skills are likely to be part of your job description.

However, it is not often recognised that negotiation is a key part of almost all jobs—and, indeed, of most people’s personal lives as well.

Our page on Negotiation and Persuasion in Personal Relationships sets out how you might use negotiation skills at home. This page focuses on negotiating within your job—whether that is for a pay rise, or to persuade a colleague not to bring smelly food into the office.

A Definition of Negotiation

Our page What is Negotiation? explains that negotiation is a process used to settle differences. During the process, compromise is reached while avoiding arguments or disputes.

That page also explains that ‘old-style’ negotiation, otherwise known as ‘haggling’, involves one side ‘winning’ and the other side ‘losing’. However, more recently it has become clear that the most successful negotiations involve finding a win–win position that works for everyone.

Opportunities for Negotiation at Work

There are many possible times when you might need to use negotiation skills at work.

These start even before you are employed, when you are agreeing a starting salary at or around your interview. Once employed, other times might include:

  • When you would like to be paid more;

  • When you want some time off, especially at a busy time of year, or during school holidays, when lots of other people may also want to take holiday;

  • If you want to leave early or come in late for some reason;

  • If you want to work from home, or make another change to your agreed working conditions; and

  • If you want to tailor your job to better fit your skills or development needs, a process known as job crafting or job enrichment.

These examples are all likely to involve negotiating with your manager. However, you may also need to negotiate with your peers. For example, you might be asked to agree who is going to take time off during a holiday period. You might also want to change something about how you work together, or perhaps two of you both want to go out for lunch at the same time, and someone needs to stay to answer the phone. You might even have to resolve issues such as someone bringing in smelly food, or listening to music at their desk without headphones.

There is more about negotiating with your peers in our page on Peer Negotiation.

All these issues will require the use of a process to settle the difference between you without descending into an argument or dispute.

A Process for Negotiating

Our page What is Negotiation? sets out a process for negotiation. It involves six stages:

  1. Preparation
  2. Discussion
  3. Clarification of goals
  4. Negotiate towards a win–win outcome
  5. Agreement
  6. Implementation of a course of action

This process does not need to be formal. However, as you negotiate, you are likely to find that you go through each stage. The examples below show this in more detail.

Negotiating at Work: Some Examples

One of the best ways to examine the process of informal negotiation is to look at it in action, via some examples.

Example 1. Negotiating a change in responsibilities or job crafting

Suppose that you have been doing some thinking about your career and your future. You have realised that to move forward in your chosen direction, you need an opportunity to develop your management skills. You decide to ask your manager if this might be possible, and set up a meeting, explaining that it is about career development. [Preparation]

In the meeting, you explain about your chosen career direction, and the skills that you need to develop. Your manager asks whether you intend to stay in the organisation, and where you see yourself in a few years’ time. You are honest, and explain that you would like to stay, but only if you have the opportunity to develop your skills, and potentially take on more responsibilities. [Discussion and Clarification of Goals]

Your manager says that she has been thinking about employing a temp to help with a project that you are currently working on, which is about to expand. She wonders if you would like to manage the temp. However, she is concerned that your lack of management experience may make it harder for the temp to get up to speed quickly. You suggest that you could schedule regular short weekly meetings with her to discuss any issues, and also jointly agree an induction process. She agrees that this would be reasonable, and suggests a regular 15-minute slot. [Negotiating for a win–win outcome and Agreement]

The next day, your manager asks you to set in train the process for finding a temp. She offers to help you to interview potential candidates, and you accept. [Implementation of a course of action]

Example 2. Negotiating a pay rise

In a regular meeting, your manager asks you if you would be prepared to take on some new responsibilities at work. You are keen to do so because you can see the additional work will be interesting. However, you are also concerned about the impact this might have on your work–life balance, because you already work long hours. You ask to consider the question. In discussion with your partner later, they suggest that you ask for additional pay to reflect your new responsibilities. They also suggest that you might be able to pass some of your old responsibilities to someone else. You take time to research what other people in your organisation with your proposed new responsibilities are paid [Preparation]

The next time you meet your manager, you ask about both additional pay and if there is any scope to pass any of your previous work to anyone else, to free up your time. You explain that your research shows that people with the new responsibilities are generally paid a bit more than you, and that you are concerned about not being able to do the new work justice. Your manager agrees to increase your salary to the average for those responsibilities. He adds that passing responsibilities to others will not be possible, because there are currently not enough people to cover the work. However, he is currently recruiting some new staff, who should be in place in a few months, and you might then pass some work over. You ask if perhaps paid overtime would be possible for three months, until more staff can be recruited. Your manager says that he will consider it. [Discussion and Negotiation for a win–win outcome]

The next day, your manager sends you an email to say that paid overtime is not possible within the budget, especially if he is going to pay you more. However, he asks you to be involved in drawing up job descriptions for the new staff, so that you can be sure that you will be passing on some of your workload. You reply agreeing to all this, and set a date to start to take on the new work. [Agreement and Implementation]

The Key to Successful Negotiation

Based on these examples, it is clear that successful negotiation at work requires:

  • Some preparation from you to identify what you would like, but also where you are prepared to compromise; and

  • A clear focus on how to make your suggested changes work for the organisation as well as you.

Both these allow you to work towards a win–win situation—which is the key to successful negotiation.