the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School(www.pon.harvard.edu)
Marvin's annual review is approaching, and already his boss is managing expectations. She's announced to the department that there will be no raises or bonuses this year, a nonnegotiable companywide policy. Seven people were laid off last month in Marvin's department alone, and he knows he's lucky to have a job in the technology sector. But how can he keep his job and his career from stagnating?
When economic conditions are gloomy, job negotiations can seem pointless. At best, you might maintain the status quo -- same job, same pay. At worst, your boss could decide to cut your salary or your hours, or let you go altogether. But even when raises are off the table and no one knows what will happen next, you can -- and should -- continue to negotiate for your career advancement. Here we present three ideas to help you weather the current climate.
1. Expand your alternatives.
As every good negotiator knows, a primary source of power in any negotiation is your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, or BATNA. With unemployment figures rising, it can be hard to imagine that any promising alternative to your current position exists. Yet if you think creatively, you may find a good BATNA in an unlikely place.
A tough employment market can actually be the best time to do some soul-searching about your long-term career. How much satisfaction do you get from your current job? Is there something you'd rather be doing, and if so, what steps would you need to take to get there? If jobs in your current field are few and far between, and you don't love your work, it may be time to do some research. Suppose that, after 15 years in the IT industry, Marvin felt he was ready for a change. Because he thought he might want to become a teacher, he started volunteering two nights a week at a tutoring program in his neighborhood and began researching teaching programs at local colleges.
Exploring alternative paths through research, career coaching, classes or volunteer work can give you psychological bargaining power in negotiations involving your current job. Even finding out that you don't want to walk away any time soon can help you recommit and re-engage.
2. Make yourself useful.
Marvin's boss, Roberta, put everyone on notice that raises were not an option this year. "I'm not getting one, either," she said. "We've all got to figure out how to do more with less."
Whether you're wrapped up in your work or just biding time, you're going to be disappointed if your salary remains flat or if your company cuts benefits. Rather than pressing your boss to make an exception for you because of your stellar performance, view the discussion as an opportunity to better understand your boss's position and find ways to help her out.
Appreciation is the key to drawing out your counterpart's concerns, write professor Deborah M. Kolb of the Simmons School of Management and Judith Williams in their book "Everyday Negotiation" (Jossey-Bass, 2003). By sincerely feeling and showing appreciation for your boss's situation, you encourage her to correct or elaborate on what you believe to be true about the situation at hand.
Here's how Marvin might express appreciation for his boss's situation during his annual review: "I understand that the budget is really tight and that this conversation isn't going to be the usual one about raises. I'd like to better understand your concerns about the department in general. Are there areas where we should be doing better?"
Rather than engaging in the usual push-pull discussion about salary, Marvin and Roberta got into a "meta" talk about the department's mission and shortcomings. Together, they drafted a plan to increase computer training for employees in other departments with the long-term goal of freeing up IT personnel to spend more time on external projects. Marvin agreed to organize the initiative, which would increase his exposure within the company while also giving him a chance to explore his interest in teaching.
3. Establish boundaries.
During troubled economic times, those fortunate enough to keep their jobs amid layoffs often find they are expected to do more -- much more. Imagine that, two months into Marvin's new training initiative, Roberta compliments him on his performance, but then adds, "Now I have something else that I'd like you to work on."
As Roberta outlines his new assignment, Marvin wonders how he will ever get his regular work done. He broaches the idea of cutting back some of his regular responsibilities, and Roberta stares at him for a long moment. "I thought of you first, but if you're not willing to chip in, I can ask Jesse if she wants to do it. She's always ready to help out."
Negotiators often challenge each other, by questioning each other's competence, demeaning each other's ideas, making threats, and even with flattering remarks, write Kolb and Williams. And when you have a reputation for collaboration, others may try to test your limits.
But just because staffing is lean doesn't mean that you have to accept every salary cut and new project that your boss and others in your organization hand you. It does mean, however, that you need to be open and creative in developing solutions that please both sides.
Begin by correcting, as politely as possible, the challenging move your counterpart just made. "I appreciate it that you thought of me first," Marvin might say to Roberta. "And I'd like for us to figure out a way for me to help you, with or without Jesse's involvement. As you know, I enjoy managing new projects. Let's explore how we might get this task done without stretching anyone too thin."
By responding to Roberta's questioning of his commitment, Marvin was able to turn the conversation in a more productive direction -- one aimed at meeting both sides' interests and concerns.