5 Keys to a Successful Negotiation

By Erin Ewart

Of all the topics we cover with our clients, negotiation is one that provokes some of the most questions and discomfort. 

And it’s no wonder that so many of us don’t feel comfortable negotiating. We typically get little (or no) training on how to negotiate, and when we end up in a high stakes situation like negotiating a job offer or promotion, we can feel totally lost. 

But negotiation is such an important skill, both in your career and your life overall. And like any other skill, it’s something you can learn and get better at, starting right now!

We can’t promise that negotiating will ever be your favorite thing or that you won’t get nervous during these conversations, but there are definitely things you can do to prepare, build your confidence, and improve your skills.

Here are our top five ground rules for negotiating, whether you’re just getting started or looking to fine-tune your skills.

1. Always negotiate (if you are able to do so)

While in theory we encourage everyone to always negotiate, it’s important to understand how systemic biases, in particular those based on race and gender identity, can unfairly impact some job seekers when they negotiate. This makes it even more important for those of us who don’t face these biases to commit to negotiating every time we have the opportunity.

This not only benefits us, it helps set a precedent for those who come after us, especially those who are most impacted by pay inequity or may be unfairly penalized for negotiating. If it feels hard asking for things for yourself, think about the bigger systemic impact you’ll have by blazing a trail for others, and consider how earning a higher salary or having more flexibility could benefit your family or give you more time and money to support the social causes that are important to you. 

2. Know your priorities

I can’t emphasize this one enough. You have to know what’s most important to you in order to decide what you want to negotiate on. While salary is typically the top item people think about, there are countless other things you can negotiate on: we’ve had clients negotiate things like title, start date, schedule flexibility, more time off, professiona development stipends, relocation support, signing bonuses or other incentive compensation, and accelerated review timelines, to name a few.

Identify your top two to three priorities and use those as the basis for your negotiation strategy. If the initial offer you got is pretty good, consider what could make it just a little bit better, or make you even more excited to say yes. 

3. Reframe the conversation

Sometimes negotiation can feel so tricky because we feel like we have to win. The reality is that both sides need to win something in a successful negotiation to walk away feeling good about the outcome, which means both sides need to make compromises as well.

Approach the negotiation with curiosity about where the employer is coming from, and what they may be able to compromise on. Aim for a “win-win” by sharing your priorities with them and asking about theirs, and signaling that you are eager to find a mutual agreement. Remember: at this point in the process, you both agree that it’s a good fit and now it’s just about figuring out the details. This reframing can help shift the tone from feeling adversarial and help you focus on finding a mutually acceptable agreement.

4. Research and prepare

Before you get to the negotiation stage, gather and benchmark salary data from websites like Glassdoor and Payscale, 990 forms for nonprofits, and conversations with people in your network. Combine this market data with your own goals to align on your target compensation number and be sure to identify the “floor” number that you will not be willing to go below.

When you receive a job offer, always convey your enthusiasm and ask for all the details in writing and time to review them, so that you can thoughtfully prepare your negotiation strategy. Make sure to write down the key points you want to make, especially what you want to ask for and why your skills and experience are so valuable for the role. Role playing the conversation with someone else in advance is also very helpful; it may feel awkward, but it’s critical to figure out how you want to verbalize your request and get comfortable saying it out loud. 

5. Remember that this is a business transaction

Keep in mind that most employers expect you to negotiate, and that this is a standard part of the hiring process. While you may not do this much, recruiters and hiring managers do it all the time! In fact, they have probably built room into their initial offer in anticipation of you coming back to them with a counter proposal (and remember that you don’t always have to negotiate on salary, or salary alone).

Negotiating demonstrates that you are confident in your value, and it shows the employer that it’s a skill you’ll be able to use on their behalf once you’re on board. Ask for what you need, and don’t take the “no’s” personally. It doesn’t mean they don’t want to work with you!  

We hope these tips help you the next time you’re ready to negotiate. Know that it’s very common to feel a little nervous going into these conversations, and that each time you negotiate, you’ll build more confidence for the next time.  

Want support as you build your negotiation skills? Check out our coaching programs for social impact professionals.

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