Asking someone for anything is difficult. Whether you’re asking for an item, money, or help, it’s usually less about who you ask and more about how you ask. But when that someone is your boss, the ask can be especially daunting. She’s the boss, she’s the decision-maker, and she pays your salary. And since your request can quickly turn into a negotiation (because, let’s face it, bosses rarely say yes without putting up a fight), you have to know how to play the game. It doesn’t matter if you’re asking for a raise, more hours, better benefits, or extra flextime. If you’re requesting something from your boss, you have to think, act, and negotiate like a boss.
Here are six ways to master the art of negotiation:
1. Understand that your boss (probably) has a boss
Regardless of your ask, it’s important to know that the buck may not stop with your boss. Before you negotiate with her, think about who she has to negotiate with to get your request approved. "Think about that in advance, and prepare an argument your boss may use internally with others," says Daniel Shapiro, author of Negotiating the Nonnegotiable: How to Resolve Your Most Emotionally Charged Conflicts. For example, if you live an hour away from your job yet rarely have in-office meetings and do most of your work from a computer, working remotely one day a week may save the company money on travel expenses. Although you may be requesting flexibility to reduce your commute time and allow more time with your family, presenting it as a cost-effective solution to the company may help it get approved.
2. Know market standards
Don't walk in and demand an arbitrary raise, says Shapiro. Don’t act entitled because you are not owed anything. Know the standards in the market, and argue accordingly: "I've been in the company X years, I have Y degrees, and I know the challenges as well as anyone," says Shapiro. "Market standards for my salary range from X to Y. I'm requesting Y because..." It’s also smart to highlight your accomplishments and skills – what you have done and will continue to do for the company – to help express your loyalty and value as an employee.
3. Don't negotiate with yourself
After you make the request of your boss, be quiet and listen, suggests Shapiro: "Too many people make a request (‘I want a 5 percent raise’) and then start negotiating with themselves (‘But I'm happy to take a 4 percent raise, and you know what, even a 3 percent raise, and you know what, don't even worry about the raise...’). And before they know it, they’ve talked themselves out of something they truly deserved simply by backpedaling and not listening."
4. Be likable
If you are argumentative, arrogant, or combative, getting your way is going to be difficult – at work and in life. Don’t be pushy or abrasive because no one (i.e. your boss) is going to fight for you unless she likes you. "If you have done a good job justifying your request, have shown concern for organizational constraints, and demonstrated flexibility, you are likely on the path to likability," says Deepak Malhotra, the Eli Goldston Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School and author of Negotiating the Impossible: How to Break Deadlocks and Resolve Ugly Conflicts (without Money or Muscle). Be nice and likeable because you are there to discuss ideas, get your boss' perspective, and invent ways to get each of your interests met, reminds Shapiro.
5. Be flexible.
So you got your boss on board and she knows how to present your request to others. Congratulations are in order, right? Not just yet. She may be told no or not now or yes, but from her boss, and the negotiations will have to adapt to whatever is said. Maybe a raise will break the budget or more vacation for you could leave the department understaffed. When you’re presented with opposition, it’s important that you’re flexible. "The more flexible you are in how they reward you, the more likely it is that you'll be rewarded," explains Malhotra. "If more vacation time is impractical, are there days you could leave work early? If a higher salary is not obtainable, how about a higher end-of-year bonus?" Work with them so they can work with you.
6. Know your boundaries.
As important as it is to be flexible and persistent when it comes to your request, it’s just as important to remain professional and respectful if and when you’re turned down. You don’t want to be perceived as insubordinate or ungrateful. If your boss says no to your request, ask her what it will take to make it happen, suggests Shapiro. Listen, take notes, and consider revisiting the topic again in the future after you have addressed the objectives your boss highlighted.
Regardless of your request, it’s important to ask with confidence and professionalism. You’re allowed to feel in control because there’s a good chance your boss needs you and values the work you do. Hiring and training new people is costly, taxing, and downright annoying so don't walk in feeling downcast and disempowered. If you do your market research, ask with respect and poise, be a consummate professional, and remain open and flexible to alternate requests, you will be surprised at how much you can get.
Image: Women of Color in Tech