It’s time for an upfront talk with your boss. You’re overdue for a promotion and the raise that goes with it. Or maybe you’re seeking resources for a new initiative. Perhaps you want a major change in the scope of your job.
Depending on how your meeting goes, you’ll either move forward in your current company or find another one where your work will be rewarded and supported.
Given the stakes, you diligently rehearse all the reasons why he or she should say yes to your request. They are good ones, no doubt. But Deborah Kolb and Jessica Porter, authors of Negotiating at Work, warn that you’re only half-way prepared, at best.
They say that in order to win a big yes, you must anticipate your boss’s strongest arguments for saying no. He or she will like their own reasons better than yours. If you don’t address them, you risk getting a big no.
Kolb and Porter write about Cheryl, a senior VP of a major division of a manufacturing firm. She was promoted to that position after agreeing to move her family from Pennsylvania to the company’s Texas headquarters. Two years later, her husband and their teenage children insisted on moving back to their former home.
Cheryl wasn’t going to abandon her family, of course. But she also loved her job and didn’t want to quit. She felt there had to be a way she could keep both. Cheryl was already was spending a third of her time traveling on business. What if she were to split the remainder, spending half that time at headquarters, and the other half telecommuting from her old place?
She saw it as a win-win outcome. But looking at it from her boss’s point view, it was easy to imagine major objections on his part—her job performance, the travel cost, and precedent (the familiar “if I do it for you . . .”).
She thought hard about those issues (and others). She was well positioned on the first one, namely that her performance could suffer with all the added travel. Here she could invoke recent history. She had been on exactly this schedule the first six months after assuming her current position, so that her kids could finish the year in their old school. Since there were no problems then, none should be expected now.
As to travel expenses, yes, they’d increase with her bouncing back and forth between Pennsylvania and Texas. If necessary to get her boss’s approval, Cheryl was willing to cover some of the added cost. She’d point out, of course, that she could sometimes plan flights home coupled with business trips to the Northeast.
Her boss’s predictable concern about precedent seemed hardest to resolve, especially as he was known to be a risk-averse, “company policy” guy. Cheryl did her best to define her own situation so that it would be distinguishable from others who might later seek the same deal. She took a shot at wordsmithing her job description, but knew that might not do the trick. If this issue proved to be a roadblock, it might come down to hard bargaining but she would do that from a position of strength.
Cheryl was confident about her abilities and the resulting value she brought to her division. She wouldn’t be easy to replace, especially in the short term. If it came down to it, she’d tell her boss that he’d have to choose between the very real risk of losing her today against the abstract possibility that another employee might want a similar arrangement in the future.
In my view, the special virtue of the Williams and Porter’s “Expect-No” mantra is that it gets us out of our own heads. Focusing solely on our needs and rationale can trap us into seeing others (bosses, included) as obstacles standing between us and what we feel we rightfully deserve. The authors’ punchline: when we bring somebody a problem, in that person’s eyes, we become the problem. It’s in our interest to show them how to solve it.
I’ll add a friendly amendment. Be proactive, but don’t get ahead of those you’re talking to. Let them voice their concerns themselves. Begin by describing what you need and why you need it. Then turn and say, “I expect this may raise some concerns. If so, tell me what they are, so we can discuss various ways of addressing them.”
Phrasing it this way opens up possibilities and discourages a pre-emptive “no.”It also presumes that what follows will be a two-way conversation, even in a hierarchal relationship. And because you already have solutions in your back pocket, you can help your boss solve the perceived problems he or she raises.
In the best of all worlds, of course, you do such a good job thinking about their concerns, some of the issues that you anticipated never actually come up.
This article is published in collaboration with LinkedIn. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.
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Author: Michael Wheeler is an authority on negotiation theory and practice.
Image: People cross an illuminated floor at a banking district in central Tokyo. REUTERS/Thomas Peter.