7 Bargaining Tips for Reasonable People

Who says nice guys finish suboptimally remunerated?

Posted Jan 15, 2017

If all goes as anticipated, 2017 will likely be a year of big tax cuts. Some Americans will get more and many Americans will get less, but lots of people are going to take home a greater portion of their paychecks.

Visions Of America LLC © 123RF.com
Source: Visions Of America LLC © 123RF.com

The Tax Policy Center estimates that Trump’s proposed tax reforms will cost the federal government $9.5 trillion during its first decade and “cut taxes at every income level, but high-income taxpayers would receive the biggest cuts, both in dollar terms and as a percentage of income.”

More specifically, those taxpayers who are in the top 0.1 percent and make more than $3.7 million dollars a year in 2015 would receive a tax cut of more than $1.3 million in 2017, or 19 percent of after-tax income. Whereas, the average middle-class family stands to receive a more modest 4.9 percent cut, or $2700.

Except for at the ballot box, the vast majority of Americans exert little control over how much in taxes they pay. However, there is one way that many Americans can boost their bottom lines and quality of life through less existential means: by negotiating a better salary, better benefits, and better work conditions.

Many cooperative people who value interpersonal harmony feel uneasy about negotiating. These people fear that bargaining could precipitate hard feelings and open the door to conflict. They don’t appreciate that negotiation is a fundamental and ancient form of communication that can improve not only their own lives but the lives of those whom they care about most and depend on them.

In a 2006 book titled Bargaining for Advantage: Negotiation Strategies for Reasonable People, author G. Richard Shell, a professor at The Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania (Trump’s alma mater), details “Seven Tools for Highly Cooperative People” that can be used to better negotiate.

Keeping in mind that my treatment may be somewhat reductive, and that the tools that Shell suggests apply to a wide range of negotiations—not just the granular ones—I’ve nevertheless adapted Shell's guidance to explain how an individual could use these tools for workplace negotiations.

  1. Develop higher expectations. Don’t focus all your attention on the bottom line. If all you care about is the bottom line, then it’s likely your bottom line won’t change. Instead, think about your goals and expectations at work and how to attain these. If you expect more and focus on what you want and why you want it, then your bottom line will rise in kind. For example, anybody can ask for an absolute increase in salary, and if that’s all one cares about, the raise may not come through. However, if an employee were to raise her expectations and focus on her goals at work, she may realize that she’s interested, for instance, in formally taking on more leadership and managerial duties. By formally asking for increased responsibilities, she will likely experience an increase in pay commensurate with her expanded job description.
  2. Find an alternative. If negotiations fail, then you need to have a back-up. If you really need your job, and you have no other fiscal alternatives if you lose your job, then it’s questionable whether you should be negotiating too aggressively in the first place. Shell suggests that if you can’t walk away from the bargaining table, then you can’t say “no.” However, if you have an alternative, for example, you’ve secured another more lucrative job offer should you ever have to leave your current job, then you can say “no” to advance your own interests and position.    
  3. Get an agent. If you’re up against a highly skilled negotiator or group of negotiators, it’s good to employ a competitively oriented person to represent your interests, either as your agent or as part of your team. For example, if you’re financially able, you could hire a contract lawyer to help you negotiate your contract.
  4. Bargain on behalf of another. When negotiating, think about causes and people whom you represent. For example, if you’re trying to negotiate a promotion with more pay at work, think about how the extra money could help pay your kid’s college tuition. By bargaining on behalf of another person who depends on you, you won’t feel as selfish in the process. According to Shell, research shows that people bargain harder when negotiating on behalf of the interests of another.
  5. Tell someone else about the negotiations. Research also shows that people bargain more assertively when they’re being watched. You can create this effect by apprising a friend of your workplace negotiations and keeping him in the loop.
  6. “You’ll have to do better than that because [insert truthful reason]." By nature, cooperative people tend to say “yes” to nearly any proposal that seems plausible. Shell recommends resisting this urge and instead coming up with a reason why a suboptimal offer won’t do. Any truthful reason will suffice, and the better the reason, the better that you will feel about it. People will more often comply with your requests when you provide a truthful reason supporting your position. For example, if you were to approach your boss with a request for increased pay and are answered with a counteroffer that’s less than what your contemporaries are receiving—for example, colleagues at other organizations—reject the offer by calmly and reasonably stating, “You’ll have to do better that that because other people doing my same job elsewhere are getting paid more.”
  7. Insist on commitments. If you’re trying to negotiate a better standing at work, don’t settle for an oral agreement, get a commitment in writing. 
Dmitriy Shironosov © 123RF.com
Source: Dmitriy Shironosov © 123RF.com

On a final note, these tools may not appeal to you and that’s fine. Shell recommends that to be successful during negotiations you must be comfortable with the strategies and tactics that you use and “to be yourself at the bargaining table.” If you don’t feel comfortable with some or all of this advice, then this advice isn’t right for you and your negotiations using this advice will fall flat.