Looking to make thousands more per year? Surprisingly, the strategy for reaching this goal is as simple as learning to negotiate like a pro. Even as a seasoned executive-level professional, negotiating salary pay and benefits can often be a stressful and confidence-shattering experience.
However, as part of accepting higher-paying roles with additional responsibilities and management tasks, the negotiation phase of an interview process is crucial to one’s future professional development and success.
As a qualified and experienced professional, you often hold the majority of the power in negotiating conversations, even if employers rely on the uncomfortable nature of these discussions to work in their favor.
To prepare you for these conversations, here are three tips that will help you negotiate your worth and set you up for success once you step into your new role.
Meet our negotiation expert, Ted Leonhardt
Ted is a negotiation expert and author who focuses on helping professionals leverage their worth in negotiation discussions. His mission is to help creative professionals thrive within the world of business.
As a former designer, Ted understands the nuances that many creative roles face when it comes to the hiring and pitching process. Ted is a passionate writer and loves to connect with clients from his office (which is aboard an all-wood motor yacht)!
I spoke with Ted regarding his insights and work into the “ladder framework of negotiations”. In our conversation, Ted provided his thoughts on the emotional element of negotiating as well as some tactics for bringing your best self to the bargaining table.
As Ted explains “When it’s your salary, your work, and your opportunity – it’s personal. When it’s personal, expect your emotions to play a role. So create a plan with emotions in mind.”
Tactic One: Allow time to preload your confidence
During my conversations with Ted, we discussed how the stressors around us can do us a disservice when it comes to negotiations. A busy office space, a stressful commute, or being put on the spot unexpectedly can all cause a major impact in your ability to calmly and rationally negotiate. Prior to negotiation, new client pitch, or stressful conversation, Ted recommends everyone take a few quiet moments to help “preload their frontal lobe” for the discussion that is about to come. He recommends using this quiet time to reflect on your needs and the value you bring to the table. He refers to this as a time to “charge up your confidence.”
As part of your quiet, reflective time, Ted recommends using a list method to help organize your thoughts and trigger the memory functions in your brain. Ideally, you will not need to refer to this list during your negotiations, although it is completely fine if you’d like to. As a starting point, Ted recommends jotting down thoughts in response to the prompts below to help prepare you for the negotiation discussion you are about to walk into.
- Consider what you bring to the conversation. Make a list of skills, attributes, and performance qualities that you feel best fit this role or organization
- Think about your personal needs and goals – what do you value in a role? Think beyond salary to consider professional development opportunities, career growth, and mentorship programs
- What options do you anticipate the other party will bring to the table? Make a list of salary grades, vacation time, and benefits that you would consider and more importantly, the ones you would not
Tactic Two: Think of a negotiation as an exercise in discovery – remember to ask rather than just tell
Another way that Ted recommends reducing anxiety in a negotiation setting is by engaging in the conversation as both a contributor and an active listener. By asking thoughtful questions, you will control the conversation. This helps bolster your confidence and turn a potentially awkward situation into a more personable experience. By asking questions, you encourage the other party to engage and share more information about themselves, the role, the organization, and ultimately your place in it all. If there is one thing we’ve all found true in our work experience it’s that everyone loves to talk about themselves!
While it may seem natural in anxiety-producing situations to respond as complacently as possible, Ted challenges this idea and encourages his mentees to “ask, don’t tell” and see the results for themselves.
For candidates that are looking to negotiate a higher salary, Ted recommends insightful questions that honor the other parties’ “expertise, wisdom, and insights into the opportunity at hand.” Some of his favorite questions include:
- How can my work in this position help your business or organization reach their goals?
- What challenges keep you awake at night? How can this position help to find solutions to those challenges?
- How can I best tailor this role to support you and the business/organization?
To really impress your potential employer or new client, Ted recommends doing thorough research on the organization and the people you will be interviewing with. Use this research to prepare questions about the challenges facing all levels of the organization and how these changes are presenting new opportunities for your specific position.
From there, Ted recommends moving the conversation to issues-based questions to show you are thinking of this organization within the context of the world around you. Some great topics to discuss could include:
- The COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges facing your particular industry
- A shift to a more digital approach to business
- Worker concerns and priorities, including the move to “work from home”
- Any management change or other internal changes
- External changes like government policy, legal challenges, changes in technologies, competitors, or any other area of interest you feel will impact this organization and your role within it
And lastly, don’t forget to be prepared to discuss the specifics of the role, salary, benefits, responsibilities and team dynamic. Ted recommends ending your conversation with these questions so you have had a chance to really highlight your value and summon your confidence prior to the actual negotiating.
Tactic Three: Create an engaging two-way dialogue
As we concluded our discussion, I asked Ted what he considered to be the biggest mistake that candidates make during a negotiation and his answer was simple: only thinking about yourself. For Ted, it is important that he reminds all his readers and negotiation clients that only thinking of yourself in a negotiation is a huge disservice to both parties and does not lead to a beneficial outcome for anybody.
He recommends being an active listener and asking questions that will help you garner knowledge into the other person’s perspective and insights. These valuable two-way dialogues not only help establish favorable outcomes for both parties but can also kickstart the beginning of a respectful and trusting working relationship.
You can find information about Ted Leonhardt and more of his recommendations for top negotiation skills on his website and in his book Nail It: Stories for Designers on Negotiating with Confidence.