There’s a lot of advice out there about negotiating for raises. Do it, and do it often; keep records of your accomplishments so you can make your case. Please, dear god, make sure your sentences don’t come out sounding like questions. (I need a raise? I am a valuable member of the team?)
Here’s the Harvard Business Review on How to Negotiate Your Next Salary. From HBR, among other suggestions: Do your research on what the company pays others and what other companies pay for your role. (I have long advocated salary openness – see Bullish: How Talking About Money Can Make You More of It.)
But I think that a lot of the decisions and communications that determine how much money you make just don’t always happen in a formal negotiating meeting, in which you know in advance that you will be discussing your salary and that you should come prepared.
I think a lot of the difficulty of negotiating is even knowing when the negotiating part starts. (If you’re wondering, maybe it already has! Or maybe it never starts unless you start it!) Sometimes, “negotiating” is spending an hour writing a three-sentence email spelling out your requests.
I also think that there are a lot of ways to get more money without having to think as though you’re going into combat. Sometimes, companies are doing well, and asking for money isn’t that big a deal, and also wins you respect from the people around you who were making more than you the whole time. Asking for more shows self-awareness. It’s not a fight; it’s a way to become a peer.
Other times, wherever the battle over money takes place may not be where you think. Better to have people on your team than have to persuade enemies.
Here are a few ideas.
Try drafting the decisionmaker to your team.
If you are negotiating a fee for a freelance gig or a salary for a full-time position, there are a few postures you can take.
You can make a negotiation sound like a polite argument if you want. Sometimes that’s just how it goes. You can give ultimatums! Awkward.
But sometimes the person doling out the money doesn’t have that much personal stake in it. If she screws you over, she’ll get a pat on the back from a higher-up for saving the company a few thousand dollars. Or, if she helps you out, she’ll get a pat on the back from you, and a mere shrug from those higher-up. The money’s not coming out of her pocket. Her motivations are shifting and unclear.
Sometimes you can draft her onto your team.
Assume that the person is on your side, fighting with some kind of “bad cop” who controls the money. So, instead of, “I need you to give me more money,” it’s like, “I trust you to get me as much as you can from the big guys.”
In actual practice, I’ve often had success with, “Look, I really want to work with you – I trust you to get me as much as you can.”
This has worked well when working with professors trying to bring my educational comedy shows to their university. Of course we’re on the same team! We want to share the love of punctuation with young people! So, “My fee is $2,500, but you know the ins and outs of the administration – I trust you to get what you can for me.” It has also worked well in a variety of other situations.
In one case, this strategy got me an extra $7,000 on a freelance contract that had already been negotiated, but turned out to be a lot more work than I thought. I said, “I know the contract’s already signed, but if you have a way for you to pull some strings the company…” As it turned out, that guy did have a way to pull some strings with the company. And when I got paid, he (I assume) felt like he had done a good deed – standing up for someone who needed it – rather than like he’d been strongarmed into doing something he didn’t want to do.
Even in cases in which the person paying you really is the decisionmaker, a bit of feigned naivete can work here. “It’s been great meeting you! I know you’ll talk to whoever you need to to make my case, and I hope it works out!”
In a full-time job situation (things are looser in small businesses and startups), you can sometimes spin this as, “I like the top people here so much that I would like to join your club now. The club where we are all awesome together and get paid accordingly. I respect the fuck out of you. Let me into your Borg cube!”
It’s kind of like pledging a fraternity. But still: this is a presumptive sales attempt to get yourself and the decisionmaker on the same team.