Now’s the Time to Negotiate for the Job—or Salary or Flexibility—You Want
Skip to content
Careers Aug 19, 2021

Now’s the Time to Negotiate for the Job—or Salary or Flexibility—You Want

Tips from an expert negotiator on how to ask without fear.

mentor and protege discuss careers

Yevgenia Nayberg

Based on insights from

Victoria Medvec

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.

Negotiate Without Fear is now available for purchase. Learn more and buy your copy today

Read more

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.”

Medvec shared some of these tools and strategies, which come from her forthcoming book, Negotiate Without Fear, in a recent The Insightful Leader Live webinar.

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.”

Featured Faculty

Adeline Barry Davee Professor of Management & Organizations; Executive Director of the Center for Executive Women

Most Popular This Week
  1. One Key to a Happy Marriage? A Joint Bank Account.
    Merging finances helps newlyweds align their financial goals and avoid scorekeeping.
    married couple standing at bank teller's window
  2. Take 5: Yikes! When Unintended Consequences Strike
    Good intentions don’t always mean good results. Here’s why humility, and a lot of monitoring, are so important when making big changes.
    People pass an e-cigarette billboard
  3. How Are Black–White Biracial People Perceived in Terms of Race?
    Understanding the answer—and why black and white Americans may percieve biracial people differently—is increasingly important in a multiracial society.
    How are biracial people perceived in terms of race
  4. Will AI Eventually Replace Doctors?
    Maybe not entirely. But the doctor–patient relationship is likely to change dramatically.
    doctors offices in small nodules
  5. Entrepreneurship Through Acquisition Is Still Entrepreneurship
    ETA is one of the fastest-growing paths to entrepreneurship. Here's how to think about it.
    An entrepreneur strides toward a business for sale.
  6. Take 5: Research-Backed Tips for Scheduling Your Day
    Kellogg faculty offer ideas for working smarter and not harder.
    A to-do list with easy and hard tasks
  7. How to Manage a Disengaged Employee—and Get Them Excited about Work Again
    Don’t give up on checked-out team members. Try these strategies instead.
    CEO cheering on team with pom-poms
  8. Which Form of Government Is Best?
    Democracies may not outlast dictatorships, but they adapt better.
    Is democracy the best form of government?
  9. What Went Wrong at AIG?
    Unpacking the insurance giant's collapse during the 2008 financial crisis.
    What went wrong during the AIG financial crisis?
  10. The Appeal of Handmade in an Era of Automation
    This excerpt from the book “The Power of Human" explains why we continue to equate human effort with value.
    person, robot, and elephant make still life drawing.
  11. 2 Factors Will Determine How Much AI Transforms Our Economy
    They’ll also dictate how workers stand to fare.
    robot waiter serves couple in restaurant
  12. When Do Open Borders Make Economic Sense?
    A new study provides a window into the logic behind various immigration policies.
    How immigration affects the economy depends on taxation and worker skills.
  13. Why Do Some People Succeed after Failing, While Others Continue to Flounder?
    A new study dispels some of the mystery behind success after failure.
    Scientists build a staircase from paper
  14. Sitting Near a High-Performer Can Make You Better at Your Job
    “Spillover” from certain coworkers can boost our productivity—or jeopardize our employment.
    The spillover effect in offices impacts workers in close physical proximity.
  15. How the Wormhole Decade (2000–2010) Changed the World
    Five implications no one can afford to ignore.
    The rise of the internet resulted in a global culture shift that changed the world.
  16. What’s at Stake in the Debt-Ceiling Standoff?
    Defaulting would be an unmitigated disaster, quickly felt by ordinary Americans.
    two groups of politicians negotiate while dangling upside down from the ceiling of a room
  17. What Happens to Worker Productivity after a Minimum Wage Increase?
    A pay raise boosts productivity for some—but the impact on the bottom line is more complicated.
    employees unload pallets from a truck using hand carts
  18. Immigrants to the U.S. Create More Jobs than They Take
    A new study finds that immigrants are far more likely to found companies—both large and small—than native-born Americans.
    Immigrant CEO welcomes new hires
  19. How Has Marketing Changed over the Past Half-Century?
    Phil Kotler’s groundbreaking textbook came out 55 years ago. Sixteen editions later, he and coauthor Alexander Chernev discuss how big data, social media, and purpose-driven branding are moving the field forward.
    people in 1967 and 2022 react to advertising
  20. 3 Traits of Successful Market-Creating Entrepreneurs
    Creating a market isn’t for the faint of heart. But a dose of humility can go a long way.
    man standing on hilltop overlooking city
More in Careers