What are the essential ingredients to getting ahead in the workplace? Hard work, communication skills, and a generous dose of luck all play a role, of course. Another important key ingredient—the one that is often overlooked—is the ability to recognize and capitalize on opportunities to negotiate for your future career success. Because your role in your organization is almost constantly up for negotiation, the importance of negotiation in business and your career can’t be overestimated. The following three guidelines will help you capitalize on the advantages of negotiation in business:
The Importance of Negotiation in Business
Tip #1. Negotiate for Long-Term Career Success
We all know the importance of negotiation in business when it comes to our starting salary and benefits. But the best negotiators in business recognize that these concerns are only a narrow component of a bigger picture. We also should negotiate for the tools we need to become a fulfilled and well-compensated person over time, recommends David A. Lax, the coauthor (with James K. Sebenius) of 3-D Negotiation: Powerful Tools to Change the Game in Your Most Important Deals (Harvard Business School Publishing, 2006).
Instead of looking at the job you’re applying for as a final destination, think of it as setting you up for the next job and perhaps the one after that, Lax advises. This shift in mindset will allow you to notice the advantages of negotiation for helping you gain the tools you need to grow and thrive in the future. These tools might include a strong support staff, more training, or a job title that will set you up for a future career goal.
Generally, employers should be indifferent between spending their money on your salary or on benefits you value more. If added schooling would enhance your work skills, an employer may be willing to pay your tuition with pre-tax dollars at a lower cost than you would pay out of pocket, for instance.
Negotiation in Business Tip #2. Negotiate Your Role
Once we are on the job, often times we neglect to negotiate assertively for our career success. To explain why, in their book Negotiating at Work: Turn Small Wins into Big Gains (Jossey-Bass, 2015), Deborah M. Kolb and Jessica L. Porter distinguish between “capital N” negotiations and “small n” negotiations. Capital N-negotiations are the formal exchanges of contracts and deals that we engage in with clients and customers on behalf of our organization.
By contrast, “small n” negotiations are the more personal and informal workplace situations in which we negotiate for ourselves. Examples of negotiation in the workplace might include asking a boss for the additional resources you need for a project to succeed, or negotiating through a disagreement with a coworker.
We sometimes overlook the importance of negotiation in business, because we don’t know what might be possible. In addition, the other party (such as a boss who hasn’t given you a raise in two years) may appear to have no incentives to negotiate with you, leaving it up to you to start the conversation. You should educate yourself about the parameters of a negotiation by gathering information, including from your network of contacts both inside and outside the organization, advise Kolb and Porter.
In addition, you should look for ways to motivate the other party to negotiate with you by making your value visible, the authors recommend. For example, reminding your boss of the big contract your team brought in should motivate her to engage in a conversation about a possible raise.
Negotiation in Business Tip #3. Negotiate for Your Deal’s Success
To close “big N” negotiations, we also have to convince stakeholders in our organization who must sign off on and/or implement the deal of its merit. Such stakeholders might include the finance division, the general counsel’s office, and the product development unit, notes Jeswald W. Salacuse, author of Negotiating Life: Secrets for Everyday Diplomacy and Deal Making (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).
Here again, the importance of negotiation in business becomes clear. First, advises Salacuse, explore your organization’s complex interests by meeting with key personnel inside your organization. Find out how they view the potential deal and what interests of theirs you may need to accommodate to ensure successful implementation.
Second, secure a mandate to negotiate on behalf of these constituents, such as the authority to explore certain kinds of deals and perhaps make tentative commitments on their behalf.
Third, work constantly to preserve and strengthen your negotiating mandate by keeping these key organizational members up to date on your progress, and involve them as appropriate.
Finally, educate these individuals about any special needs or challenges that arise, such as cultural issues or policies that put constraints on your external partner.
What examples do you have from your own career that illustrate the importance of negotiation in business? Share your story with our readers in the comments.
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Earlier in my career, I was doing a lot of “behind-the-scenes” work to make my leader successful. He had discussed my being promoted as the short-term benefit to me of some of the sacrifices I made. Corporate challenges took that off the table but my manager still wanted me to continue my extra work (which none of my peers were doing). Knowing that promotion and additional compensation were not going to occur, I asked for the opportunity to present a part of my work that I was doing for him each month to senior and executive leaders. He agreed to this since it was a fair request. Less than 12 months later, one of the senior executives offered me a role with greater compensation than I had expected, if I had been promoted in the earlier scenario.