How to negotiate in your current job

While negotiation is a tough subject all around, I’ve found most people have a harder time negotiating in their existing jobs than they do for a new job.

It makes sense. If someone you haven’t even worked with ends up saying no, then oh well. No harm, no foul, right? But if your manager says no, then you will log off the Zoom knowing you still have to work there and maintain your relationship with them.

This is the same reason why I’d rather give a presentation to a room of 1000 people I don’t know than 10 people I do. If I muck up the first scenario, who cares? I’ll never see those 1000 people again. But if I screw up in front of my 10 contacts, I’ll have to live with myself and think about every time I see them again.

This may not be the case for you, but if you’re headed into a salary chat as we move toward the new year, here are 5 steps to prep and make your case for more than the standard 6% increase:

1. First things first, stop taking a negotiation so personally. I’ve said this in probably every email so far, but a negotiation is just a conversation. But step 1 is hard because this is all about how you approach confrontation. This goes back to how you were raised, your personality type, and how we’ve been conditioned to act at work.

Personally, I hate confrontation, until I have to do it — and then I take it WAY TOO FAR (I’m kinda like the Hulk in that way). No one likes to be uncomfortable or be the bad guy. So the first step is changing our personal narratives around negotiation and confrontation. Ask yourself: What internal thoughts am I telling myself when confrontation happens at work?

These are what we should be working on. Yes, it’s like going to therapy. Assess the messages you’re telling yourself and reframe them.

  • My boss is going to think I’m greedy.
  • They’re going to think I don’t deserve this much.
  • They won’t respect me after the conversation.

Are now, respectively:

  • My boss will see that my negotiating skills can benefit the department.
  • I’m going to explain my research and wins to demonstrate how I’ve earned this increase.
  • We will still be mutually respectful colleagues even if I don’t get what I’m hoping for from the conversation.

2. Collect your wins and do your research. The idea behind Step 2 is twofold:

  1. Your job duties have likely grown since your last job description was written. AND,
  2. If you were to go get the same job right now at an equivalent company, they would have to pay you the market rate for that position.

Collecting your wins means creating a folder on your desktop or Google drive where you put all your successes.

  • Anytime someone says it’s a pleasure to work with you (a coworker, a client, a vendor), you screenshot it and put it in this folder.
  • Anytime a project you’re working on nets gains (or decreases costs, or whatever else), you create a document describing it and put it in the folder.
  • Anytime any quantitative or qualitative positive feedback comes in: document it in the folder.

Along with this, you’re going to do your research around who’s hiring for roles like the one you’re doing (including any added responsibilities you’ve taken on). Search for job descriptions that match what you’re currently doing for your company and see what the salary band is. You can also use sites like Salary.com and Glassdoor to see what people report making.

You should also talk to your coworkers about what they make. Salary transparency is key in ensuring everyone (including you) is paid fairly. This conversation can be uncomfortable at first, but it’s important to remember that our worth is not determined by our salaries.

To start, find a colleague you feel comfortable with and say something like, “I’m about to negotiate for my annual raise, and I’d like to discuss compensation if you’re open to it. If it’s easier, I’ll keep everything we say confidential between us.” And then keep your word. If they say no thanks, then move along.

3. Get the meeting. Don’t spring a salary chat with your manager in your regular one-on-one. You probably wouldn’t like it if they surprised you in your weekly meeting by asking you to negotiate on the fly. In advance of your regular review, find a time with your boss by saying something like, “Hey [manager], I’d love to schedule a time to have a conversation about how I’m performing and how I can continue to grow my career at [company].”

This is easier now since we’re almost all remote, but make sure the meeting is in a neutral location. If it’s in-person, try for a conference room or even a coffee shop. Meeting in their office can throw off the power dynamics and may make you nervous.

Giving them time to prepare (and even to make the case for you to higher ups) means you’ll both be ready to have the conversation and no one will feel shocked (a negative feeling to associate with the discussion).

4. Remember, it’s a conversation. Make sure you’re soliciting feedback as you go along. You don’t want it to be a monologue of you reciting why you think you deserve a raise: conducting a conversation rather than presenting making a demand and waiting for a decision. Confirm you’re on the same page with phrases like:

  • “I’m eager to hear your thoughts on this.”
  • “What do you think we should do?”
  • “Did I understand correctly that you are saying that?”
  • “So what I’m hearing you say is…”

Let silence be your friend in these situations. 🤫 It’s better to have a little awkward silence while everyone thinks then to talk through the quietness with ways to cut down your own argument. Don’t fill it with things like:

  • I’m no expert, but…
  • I’m sure you’ll never agree to this…
  • … but it’s ok if that doesn’t work.
  • Maybe I can take $X less instead?

Embrace the weirdness. Remember, it’s only awkward if you make it awkward.

5. There’s no reason to doubt yourself. Your ask is based on data, numbers, and research. You’re asking calmly and respectfully. And it’s just another conversation. Remember to practice with a low-stakes colleague or friend, and work on staying silent when needed. You’ve got this!