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I’ve negotiated countless deals in my career. Some of them have involved my own pay and terms of employment. Those negotiations are personal with stakes that run deep. Each time I’ve done it I’ve thought about the representatives of professional athletes and others who rely on professional representation. I never reached altitudes that required it, but I can see the benefits of it.
Herb Cohen, author of You Can Negotiate Anything, published the first edition of that book in the shadow of the Cold War. For those of you too young to remember, the Cold War was more than strong-arm negotiations. It was an arms race to show strength of destructive power. The logic was simple. If we show the Russians that our guns are bigger and more powerful than theirs, then we’ll have the upper hand. It was problematic because it was constant one-ups-man-ship brought about by one country making a move that would be countered by the opposition.
Cohen had a front row seat in a number of negotiations with Russia. In the book, he depicts the Soviet negotiation style as a sort of “my way or the highway kind” of conversation. My entire life – and my generation – understood and learned that anybody who sat across from us at a bargaining table with such a posture was assuming a “Soviet” approach. From an American perspective, those Cold War negotiations made us believe the Russians never negotiated in good faith. I’m sure Russians my age likely feel the same way about Americans. Back then, you never heard that worn out phrase, win-win. If you won, that meant the other guy lost. If he won, then it meant you lost. And that didn’t just apply to international, governmental negotiations. It applied to business, divorce settlements and any other bargaining between two or more parties.
It was all a zero-sum game. My winning necessitates you losing. Your winning necessitates my losing.
That was then. This is now.
My early business career was not spent around many people who believed in the Golden Rule. Instead of doing unto others as you’d have them do unto you, the mantra was…
Do unto them before they have a chance to do unto you.
I wasn’t able to embrace that notion, or strategy. It violated everything I’d been taught as a child, and the philosophy I was determined to live. That didn’t preclude me from trying to get the very best deal possible. I always felt it was my job to do the very best I could for my employer. I assumed the other side was trying to do the same thing and if I bested them, it only meant they didn’t serve their boss better than me. Yes, it was personal. Whoever said, “It’s only business” was only saying that to make the loser feel better. It’s always personal. It can be professional, but it’s still personal.
Today’s show was prompted by some professional people who wanted to know my thoughts – and advice – on negotiating pay increases and higher end titles. I’ve mentioned all this Soviet stuff to establish my own history and background and to encourage you to respect the position of the other side of the table. Take your eye off the other side at your own risk. Assume the other side has your best interest at heart — at your own risk (and likely peril). You have to assume responsibility for your own welfare.
Negotiating pay raises or better titles isn’t the same as negotiating purchase orders. It’s far more personal. Our investment in the outcome is higher. And more sensitive.
Your Need For More Money Doesn’t Matter
One of my first experiences with an employee who wanted more money involved hearing how he needed more money. I heard about a wife and kids. I sat there, listened and at the first pause said something that sat him back.
“Your need for money isn’t my problem.”
I could tell he was stunned. Not wanting to appear heartless, I went on to explain to him that all of us had responsibilities – people who depended on us to provide. I was sympathetic with his sense of responsibility, but it wasn’t my problem. While I wanted him to have the best opportunities possible in our company, he had to understand that because he had 2 more kids than another employee didn’t warrant higher pay. I thought his argument was senseless, and it was.
I talked to him about adding value. However, like many people, he was solely focused on his need, not his value. I urged him to focus on that responsibility and let it propel him to higher levels of accomplishment in his work. “Your family ought to provide you with enough inspiration to be more valuable here at work,” I told him.
It wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He wanted me to grant his wish like some magic genie. I knew he left my office dejected, in spite of my best efforts to encourage him. But I was young and not likely as accomplished at encouraging people as I am now. But I knew that I couldn’t be held responsible for any income deficiencies he suffered. He needed to own it himself. His family was his burden to bear. My burden toward them was done only through serving him so he could serve them. I’m not sure I succeeded, but I tried.
It’s been 35 years or so since I had that encounter. Many more have happened since. Each time the focal point is the same – providing value. Far too many people seem stuck in thinking only of what they need or want, not how they can elevate their value to warrant a pay raise.
Just this week Jacquelyn Smith wrote a piece for Business Insider entitled, 7 tricks to talk your boss into the salary you want, from a former FBI hostage-negotiation trainer. Mark Goulston is the FBI. Now he’s an author. He’s written some very good books including, Just Listen: Discover the Secret to Getting Through to Absolutely Anyone and Real Influence: Persuade Without Pushing and Gain Without Giving In.
Mark’s negotiation experiences are very different than mine. Yours, too probably. I’ve felt like I was in a life-death negotiation before, but it was just a feeling. It wasn’t real. Money, profits and income were the highest stakes for most of my negotiations. I’m not minimizing those because those are the pain points in business life. They’re just not quite the same as knowing somebody may die if you fail.
I’ll leave it to Mark and Herb Cohen (and plenty of others) to teach us some tactics. I’m mostly focused today on the point – the purpose and motivation behind the ask. And maybe, to a lesser extent, the courage to simply do it – to ask. In that regard, I really agree with point number 4 of Ms. Smith’s article…
Most people are “receivers” who are not willing to give — unless you ask, he says.
My own experiences have found this to be true. Sometimes you’re dealing with somebody who is proactive to reward superior performance, but it’s more the exception than the rule. And yet almost every worker likely wishes the boss would observe their good performance and offer them more money and other rewards. Maybe in a future episode I’ll talk about the powerful impact such behavior can have on a culture and leadership.
There are 2 things I want to focus on today. These are the things I have found most powerful when people are yearning for a pay raise. One is internal and one is external. It can start from inside out, or outside in. It doesn’t really matter. That’s an odd thing because most things have a defined sequence. Not this.
Both things are inner. But only 1 is external. Let me explain.
Value. The business or organization cares mostly about what you can do for them (it). That doesn’t mean the organization doesn’t care about you as a person, but not so much really. It’s not personal – or impersonal. Well, it can be. But mostly, it’s business. It’s how things operate and you can’t be offended by it. In spite of some managers saying, “We’re like family…” it’s not true. Unless you really ARE family, which fosters its own set of big issues. Don’t expect your boss or your organization to care for you like your family. It’s not that kind of relationship. But I think many problems arise because managers often communicate “we’re family” and employees believe it. Then, when people don’t behave in the ideal family way, people are disappointed and sometimes hurt.
Value is both internal and external. The organization wants it from you (external). If you’re conscientious, you want to deliver it (internal). Some argue that it has to begin here, but I don’t think so and I’ll tell you why.
There are things I want. You want different things. Maybe you want a bigger house, or a newer car. Maybe I want to give my wife an expensive trip. Whatever we want is our inner drive. It doesn’t have to be something others find valuable. It’s valuable to us. And it can be selfish or altruistic. Some people want to earn more because they’ve got a sick family member. Others want to earn more so they can buy a fancy wardrobe. I don’t care what you want to do with the money. The point is, you do. We all care about what we want.
Here’s where too many people get it wrong. It stops here! Self-centered motivation drives the bus toward the quest to make more money. All by itself, epic fail. Nobody cares that you want or need more money. Just because you’ve got 6 kids and I’ve got 2 doesn’t mean you’re worth more money. It definitely means you need more, but that’s not my problem. Or your boss’ problem.
Value to your organization = value to your family and what you want.
Value to your organization in the work you produce + your personal desires = getting what you’re worth.
It’s one thing to say, “I just want what I’m worth” but most of us want more than what we’re worth. That’s the describer word needed in all this, MORE.
Bring more value to your work.
Gain more value to your personal desires and needs.
One can fuel the other. You need them both though if you’re going to make it happen.