When I was young my dad owned his own produce brokerage. His job required him to purchase produce directly from farmers and sell it to larger grocery retailers and manufacturers. Once or twice a week, he would do what he called a “produce haul” — a pre-dawn trip to the market where farmers are selling their first harvests. The goal was to get produce at the best price and the strongest margin.
The summer I was 15, he required me to go with him. It was early, the trips were long, and it was, well, boring. Each trip, he would go over the rules to how we broker and then he gave me the same job — I followed him around the market, tracking our purchases on his handwritten sheet. The rules were always the same, know your numbers, know what you want, be willing to say no, and be the last to respond. Towards the end of the summer, we got out of the truck and dad asked, “You remember the rules?” As usual, I responded with a smug, “Yeah, Dad, I remember.” “Good,” he said, “this trip you’re running the deals. I’ll follow behind.”
That was the summer I learned to negotiate.
Over the years, I’ve learned that a strategic woman who is good at negotiation is against the preconceived stereotype held by many. Often times, with a lack of structure, negotiations can quickly go awry. These rules have helped me set necessary boundaries in negotiations and structure otherwise very difficult conversations. Apply these rules next time you’re negotiating for a car, a new promotion, a new job offer, or the chore list with your roommate.
- Know your worth. The first step requires a little homework on your side. Identify the key areas, traits, and strengths you bring to the table that make you the ideal solution. Know the salary range for someone with your skill set, experience level, and education level. Be reasonable, understand what you offer and what you still have to learn. A simple Google search will provide a number of salary calculators that help you better understand the acceptable range. I suggest using more than one calculator to help you develop an average. Talk to mentors, peers, and others in your network to gain perspective on the market, industry, and your competition. Either way, before the negotiation is even started, it’s your responsibility to do the due diligence on an acceptable salary range and set your expectations accordingly.
- Know your numbers. In order to negotiate effectively, you need to know your numbers. The minimum, maximum, and trade-offs. These numbers create boundaries for you in negotiations, helping to protect you from making a snap decision that misses the mark. Take a look at your finances, what you need to thrive, and the amount of income you require. When calculating your minimum, take the average salary range you defined from Step 1 and do some simple math. Take the lowest number in the range and deduct your bills. Does it make sense for your current financial situation? Create a hard stop for yourself in the negotiation — the point in which you know you’re getting a raw deal, you simply can’t go below x number and the offer makes sense for you.
- Check your emotions at the door. The truth is, negotiations don’t work if your emotions are in the way. If you’re too close to the person on the other side of the table, if you associate the number you’re being offered to your personal worth or value, or if you allow fear or insecurity get in the way of a clear mind — you can guarantee you’ve lost the negotiation before it ever started. Remember, this is business. The person on the other side of the table has a range and a maximum — a hard stopping point in which they have to say no. This isn’t personal. There’s likely multiple business realities and limitations influencing the offer. Check your emotions at the door. In these conversations, emotions don’t serve you well. In fact, they’ll mislead you 9 times out of 10.
- Ask for what you want, specifically. You know your worth, you know what you need monthly to make the bills and thrive, and you’ve checked your emotions — you keep chanting, “this isn’t personal” in the shower every morning. Check, check, double check. Now, you need to identify specifically what you want. This means, know what you want in the job, the title, the pay, and the upward mobility. How do you see this job complimenting your professional development? What do you bring to the table that makes you a valuable candidate? Define it. Know it. Own it. The worst thing you can do at the table is be wishy-washy or behave like the person giving you a job is doing you a favor. You’ve worked hard, you’ve done your due diligence, and you deserve to be having this conversation. So go ahead, ask what for what you want. The worst they can say is no.
- Want it less than the other guy. This is one of the hardest parts of the process. Essentially “wanting it less” means that you’re simply not willing to accept just any offer for this position. You recognize it needs to work for both parties. And in the event you’re offered something that is unsustainable, you walk away. Easier said than done, but when this measure is put in place, you establish boundaries and sets the tone of mutual respect moving forward. This exercise is ONLY possible if you’ve done your due diligence and you know your worth, you know specifically what you want, and you know your minimums. If you haven’t defined any of these things, you’ve not constructed your boundaries well, do not proceed, go back to step one.
- The first to speak loses. Okay, so you’ve made it to the negotiation table. This rule takes effect during a few key phases: the initial offer and the counteroffer. Here’s how it plays out. The hiring agent presents an offer to you for a job, but it doesn’t line up with your worth, minimum, or what you want. Count to 5, slowly. If they pipe up, let them continue to talk about the offer. Thank them for the offer and ask if you can have some time to think about it. Let them know you’ll get back to them within 48 hours. Even if you know your counter at that exact moment, the greatest strength you have right now is space and time. Use it to your advantage. Now, during the counteroffer, you present your counter then, shut up — say nothing. Do not explain it, justify it, or excuse it. Let it be. At this point, if you open your mouth you lose. It is the other person’s job to respond, so let them. Following their response, the goal is to work towards a compromise. You should know by now where they stand and how this deal is going to look — make your decision gracefully and powerfully.
Women often report struggling with rules #4-6, myself included. It’s often hard to confidently communicate your worth or be willing to walk away from a job that sounds great on paper. But the reality is, you don’t want a job that isn’t anchored in mutual respect — it never ends well for anyone involved. At the end of the day, you are valuable. What you bring to the table is valuable. And it’s your job, first and foremost, to honor yourself. So, own it.
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