Tips from an expert negotiator on how to ask without fear.
Let’s say you’ve got a new job offer in hand, but you’re not thrilled with the salary. Or you’re angling for a promotion at work, but your manager doesn’t seem to be on the same page. Maybe you’re overwhelmed with too many projects and you want to adjust your workload. All of this calls for a negotiation.
Does that fill you with a bit of dread? If so, you’re not alone, explains Victoria Medvec, a professor of management and organizations at Kellogg, and CEO of Medvec and Associates consulting firm.
“When we are negotiating for ourselves, we get really afraid. Even experienced negotiators tend to get really afraid,” she explains. “So we want to unlock tools and strategies to help you have that conversation in a confident way.”
Set Yourself Apart
To start with, make sure you are staying laser focused on the other party’s needs, not your own. Think about being a “pronoun checker,” she advises. If you’re saying “I” and “me” a whole lot, you’re not focusing on the right side.
“As I go into the negotiation, I have to have a compelling message and that message needs to focus on the company, not me,” Medvec says. “This is one of the hardest things for people to do when they’re negotiating for themselves. … Why? Because what I want is so salient to me.”
One way to translate your own wants into something that is salient to the other side is to think about your differentiators—what are the skills, qualities, and experiences that set you apart? Crucially, your differentiators need to be valuable to the person you’re negotiating with. If you’re fluent in Mandarin, but your company isn’t looking to do business in China, that’s not a differentiator in that context.
So how do you identify your differentiators? First of all, be confident that you have them. “I find differentiators in everyone I talk to,” Medvec says. “Everybody has unique capabilities, unique competencies, unique knowledge.”
Maybe your differentiator is that you’ve worked with a particular client for a long time and have a great relationship with them. Or you came from a competitor and therefore have unique business insights. Even things that may feel like a liability can yield differentiators, she says.
For example, if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while, “be confident, because I doubt that you were out and did nothing that added to your differentiators,” she says. “Maybe it gave you persistence. Maybe it made you incredibly good at overcoming difficult challenges.”
Then, crucially, turn your differentiators into issues you can negotiate on. If one of your differentiators is that you’ve lived in Latin America, then explain how your understanding of the culture there will help you drive sales in that region. Or if your differentiator is that you came from a different industry and have a unique set of insights into your new industry, offer to do lunch-and-learns or briefings to senior leadership to share your knowledge with others.
Give Them Options
Medvec recommends going into a negotiation with multiple options for the other side. For example, if you’re negotiating for a promotion, the three options you present to your manager could have different titles and different pay, but also different project timelines and goals that are commensurate with those titles and pay. She suggests having these in writing, but showing them only after you’ve verbally conveyed the story about how you, uniquely, can address the other side’s needs.
“People love having choice,” she says. “They feel better having choice. And they’re going to react better to having choice.”
Medvec emphasizes that these tools can work in all sorts of negotiations, not just ones over pay or promotion.
For example, maybe you want to reduce your workload. First off, Medvec says, definitely negotiate on this instead of simply throwing up your hands and quitting. “I always tell people, never depart without a negotiation,” she says.
But remember your pronoun checker, and make sure you’re focusing on your employer’s needs. “It’s not about me being burned out,” she says. “It’s about the company having this challenge that needs more of my attention. And I don’t have the ability to focus on it right now because of this, this, and this. And we need to reorient so that I can give this an effective amount of time.”
Negotiate on Your Way Out
She even advises that people use these strategies to negotiate on their way out of a job.
But what do you do if you have this negotiation sprung on you with no time to prepare? Stall, Medvec says.
Let’s say there’s a new CEO at your company, and you have a hunch they’re going to clean house a bit and hire their own new people. It’s Friday afternoon, and you suddenly have a meeting with the CEO, and you spot your HR rep in the room.
“As soon as they start the conversation, you just look overwhelmed. And you say, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I have to go. We can pick this up on Monday,’” Medvec says. And you leave the room.
Then spend the weekend figuring out your differentiators and how you can help that CEO get what they want. “I need to think about how to leave in the best possible way,” Medvec says. “And I have to negotiate to get that.”
Dr. Victoria Medvec is the Adeline Barry Davee Professor of Management and Organizations at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. In addition, Dr. Medvec is a co-founder and the Executive Director of the Center for Executive Women at the Kellogg School and the CEO of Medvec and Associates, a consulting firm focused on high stakes negotiations and strategic decisions.
Dr. Medvec is a renowned expert in the areas of negotiations, executive decision making, influence, and corporate governance. She teaches these topics to senior-level executives and Boards of Directors from companies around the world. In addition, she advises CEOs and their reports on critical decisions and negotiations, including mergers, acquisitions, significant customer contracts, supplier contracts, and partnership agreements. Her clients include General Electric, Merck, McKinsey, BlackRock, Goldman Sachs, McDonalds, Bristol Myers Squibb, J.P. Morgan Chase, American Securities, CB Richard Ellis, Hewlett Packard, Acumen Solutions, Takeda, 3i, DDB, Exelon, Abbott Labs, Ernst & Young, BP, Alexion, Seattle Genetics, Baker & McKenzie, Motorola, United Healthcare, West Corporation, YPO , Hospira, LEK Consulting, DraftFCB, Genentech, Scottish Power, Navigant, BeamSuntory, Amgen, CDW, Novartis, Shell, Pfizer, AbbVie, KPMG, ComEd, Grainger, Johnson & Johnson, RBC, OMERS, Omnicom Media Group, Oliver Wyman, Jack Link’s, Warburg Pincus, Jefferies, Walgreen’s, Evercore, Campbell’s, and Microsoft.
Dr. Medvec speaks across the country on topics relating to women in leadership, corporate governance, and board decision making. As a co-founder and the Executive Director for the Center for Executive Women at Kellogg, she is focused on moving more women into senior leadership roles and onto the Boards of Directors of Fortune 1000 companies.
Dr. Medvec’s research is published in top academic journals such as Psychological Review and the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. In addition, her research has been highlighted in numerous popular media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Today Show.
Dr. Medvec has served on both public and private company Boards. She also is a Ringleader in Ringleader Ventures, a unique venture fund matching start up technologies with corporate needs.