This article was written for Northcentral University. It appeared in Edcor Monthly Newsletter in July 2017.


President John F. Kennedy famously said, “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” Like it or not, the evidence is clear: Although negotiating may make us feel uncomfortable, those who are willing to negotiate have higher incomes and better positions.

In a study conducted by a group of professors at Harvard Business School along with Linda Babcock of Carnegie Mellon University, it was discovered that “male MBAs negotiated salaries that were $10,000 higher, on average, than those negotiated by female MBAs. Those differences add up over time. Assuming … a 3 percent raise per year, the earnings gap grows to more than $600,000 over the course of a career—or $1.5 million if those extra earnings are saved at 5 percent annual interest.”

If you can learn to negotiate successfully, it can be the key to a long and successful career.

1—Overcome Fear. According to negotiation expert Ed Brodow, the most successful negotiators are assertive and unafraid to challenge what is presented to them. He argues that “You cannot negotiate unless you are willing to challenge the validity of the opposing position.” He also points to the difference between being assertive and being aggressive. While being assertive and taking care of your own interests has a place in the business world, being aggressive is not a welcome trait.

2—Know Your Worth. Both Babcock and Brodow emphasize that doing your homework is an important part of the negotiation process. Know what others at your level, with your education, and with your résumé make in the market. If you do not know what the range of salary and typical benefits are for your position, it will be hard to argue factually for what you want. There are many resources available online to aid in researching wages in a particular market, such as Salary.com and GlassDoor.com. Keep in mind that wages can vary dramatically depending on where you live, even though job descriptions may be exactly the same.

3—Take the “Let Me Help You” Approach. Frame your request from the perspective of how your competencies will benefit the organization. If you have developed specialized business knowledge while working toward a higher degree or you have a specialized post-baccalaureate or post-master's certificate, this may be a particularly lucrative bargaining chip. For example, Northcentral University offers a Post-Master’s Certificate in Project Management that helps students focus on training in planning, project control, and working with teams. If you learned specific tools and techniques for improving project performance and organizational effectiveness, pointing this out in a negotiation could be advantageous.

4—Take Your Time. Some people are in a big hurry to negotiate everything for the first time. Some negotiations take a while. As Deepak Malhotra suggested in “15 Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer” in Harvard Business Review, “What’s not negotiable today may be negotiable tomorrow.” Brodow also encourages negotiators to slow down. “Whoever is more flexible about time has the advantage. Your patience can be devastating to the negotiator if they are in a hurry because they start to believe that you are not under pressure to conclude the deal.”

5—Remember the Perks. Should you come to an impasse regarding the level of income you’ve requested, don’t overlook the value of other benefits as points of negotiation. A good benefits package can actually exceed the value, in dollars and cents, of a higher salary. A better insurance package, more vacation time, virtual commutes, flex-time, company car, and frequency of job review are all things you can consider as part of the negotiation process.

As you negotiate that new position, a higher salary, or a fresh start after completing a graduate degree, keep in mind that negotiations are usually not personal. The most successful negotiators are able to overcome the feelings of fear and being labeled as demanding. Successful negotiators are able to articulate their requests respectfully and professionally—being assertive without being aggressive. Overcome your own fears for the key to success in today’s business world.

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