Career Coach: Be A Better Negotiator

5 steps to asking for, and getting, what you want at work. Part of our series on navigating your career.

Many of us don't bat an eyelash haggling over prices for street jewelry or wrangling gym memberships at rock-bottom rates. When it comes to nailing career negotiations though, we often get the jitters. Whether it's for flextime, vacation time, a transfer or raise, historically, women simply don't ask.

Researching her book "Ask For It," co-author Linda Babcock, economics professor at Carnegie Mellon University, found that men are four times more likely to negotiate for extras on the job, from vacation to higher salaries. "We're more willing to accept what's offered instead of engaging in the process. This can have big consequences." Check out her example:

  • Two 22-year-old pros enter the workforce earning $35,000/yr.
  • One asks for high yearly raises, averaging 5%
  • One accepts yearly raise as given, averaging 3%
  • By age 37, the negotiator earns $61,250/yr; the other earns $50,750/yr.

"Pushing boundaries may seem risky and uncomfortable, or you may fear sounding like a pest," she says, "but successful negotiating is not battling. It's problem-solving, a valued skill in any profession." What's more, it's a skill that can be polished with practice. Try Babcock's five negotiating tips when navigating your bright future.

  1. Brush Up
    The more you know, the more confident you'll be making your case. If you'd like flextime perks, find out what competitor companies offer. Meet regularly with industry peers to engage in friendly information-share so you're aware of what others in your position receive in terms of benefits and compensation. Find the info you need here:
    Contact: Professional associations and alumni networks
    Google: Type "Salaries for (profession); (State)"
  1. Strategize
    Before knocking on your boss's door, map out a plan. First, pinpoint your target (flextime, a raise, extra vacation?) "Next, decide how much more than your target you'll ask for," says Babcock. "You've got to aim higher than your real goal! Leave room so the other person could counter and you'd still walk away with what you want." (For instance, if you'd like to work from home every other Friday, ask your boss if you can telecommute every Friday.) Then, anticipate the challenges your plan creates for your boss and team. By taking time to i.d. hurdles, you'll have clever solutions tip-of-tongue if doubts are raised.
  2. Script It, Rehearse It
    After thinking through your talking points, script them and ask a friend to role-play. Knowing how to get negotiations rolling can make you feel more self-assured. Try modifying Babcock's work-from-home example:

    Opener: "I wanted to talk with you about my workweek."
    Problem: "With gas prices sky-high, I'm strapped for cash."
    Solution: "Working from home one day weekly could save me money." (Remember: Your target's one day home bi-weekly, so ask for one day weekly first.)
    Explain How the Plan Benefits Your Boss: "Working from home allows me to concentrate without distractions which boosts my productivity."
    Ask Questions: "Can we work out a new schedule together?"
    Head Off Obstacles: "Here's how we could work around X or Y hurdle." (If the concern is that you wouldn't be reachable, offer your cell phone number and to access work e-mail remotely.)
  1. Be Cooperative Not Competitive
    Keep your frame of mind in check. Stay calm, courteous and professional. If your initial proposal is met with resistance, ask, "Can you help me understand why it won't work?" Sometimes no matter what you say, your request will be denied. If it is, don't be left wondering why.
  2. "NO" Is Not the Enemy Getting comfortable hearing 'No' is an integral step to acing negotiations. If you're aiming high and asking for more than your target, 'No' doesn't end the conversation. It's just the next step of negotiation, a back-and-forth process. "If you hear 'Yes' every time you ask for something, you're not asking for enough," says Babcock. "Immediate agreement can signal selling yourself short." If your proposal's still a no-go after trying "but what if we..." a third time, call it a successful negotiation and pat yourself on the back.
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