A Simple Formula for Negotiating with Your Boss

Updated on April 17, 2016

malhotraBy Professor Deepak Malhotra, Harvard Business School

Want a raise? Longing for more vacation days? Needing to work from home when your kids aren’t in school? Whether you’re looking for a better salary or a more fulfilling career path, achieving your objective hinges on winning over the boss. 

These five negotiating tips will boost your chances at the bargaining table:

1. Tell your story. 

In negotiations, never let your offer or proposal speak for itself. Even when you deserve what you’re asking for, you still have to convince a potentially skeptical boss. Exactly why do you deserve a raise? How might working from home benefit the organization? Don’t just tell them what you want — provide a compelling story that justifies why it’s a reasonable request. 

2. Help them sell it.

Even if you’ve won over your boss, you’re not necessarily in the clear. She or he will have to champion your cause to others in the organization and explain why they are making an exception for you. How will they sell it to their boss, or to the other people they manage? Help them construct the narrative they will need if others object.

3. Be flexible.

The boss is on board and they know how to make the case to others, and still the answer is “no.” Why? Maybe a raise will break the budget. More vacation for you could leave the department understaffed. They might have real constraints. The solution: the more flexible you are in how they reward you, the more likely it is that you’ll be rewarded. 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?  

4. Stay at the negotiating table.

Does the answer come back “no” to everything? Remember: what’s not negotiable today may be negotiable tomorrow. The boss’s hands may be completely tied today, but that can change in the weeks and months ahead. If they can’t give you a higher salary today, is it possible for them to evaluate you for a raise sooner than otherwise scheduled? They cannot allow you to work from a home office when you first join the company, but might they reconsider after you have proven yourself to be a conscientious employee?

5. Be likeable. 

No one is going to fight for you unless they like you. This might seem obvious, but sometimes people are so focused on arguing their case that they come across as arrogant or combative. Asking to revisit your request too soon after being told “no” can be perceived as pushy. Balance is key as you apply the principles above. 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.

Deepak Malhotra is the Eli Goldston Professor of Business Administration at the Harvard Business School. He has consulted on hundreds of high-stakes negotiations, deadlocked deals, diplomatic stalemates and protracted conflicts. His research on negotiation and dispute resolution has been published in top journals in the fields of management, psychology, conflict resolution and foreign policy. A bestselling author, his new book, Negotiating the Impossible(Berrett-Koehler 2016) offers principles to apply in everyday life, whether negotiating job offers, resolving business disputes, or tackling obstacles in personal relationships. For more information: www.NegotiatingTheImpossible.com.

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