How to Negotiate for What You Want at Work Without Offending Anyone

Maybe you’ve fantasized about quitting, but you’re not ready to give up your steady paycheck, 401k, or insurance?

There is an alternative. Negotiate.

Transform your current job into a job you love by engaging with its full potential, marshaling the resources around you, and seizing the opportunities that are there for the taking, as I explain in “The Quit Alternative: The Blueprint for Creating the Job You Love…Without Quitting. ”

Negotiation Doesn’t Mean Someone Loses

An essential skill for creating the job you love is learning to go after what you want without costing your boss or your company what they want.

Negotiating a win for yourself does not mean that someone else has to lose. You can learn to find or create an equal exchange of value that’s satisfactory for the boss, the organization, and yourself—also known as the win-win-win.

This approach generates more trust, better relationships, and more likelihood of sustaining the job you love.

Although today negotiation is part of my daily routine, it took an awkward experience on the company jet for me to realize its potential value.

The Day I Learned That Everything is Negotiable

I was a road-weary business traveler about to make my third trip in a month to Latin America. Just as I was booking my flight, I received an email that the corporate jet happened to be headed for the same destination.

I immediately arranged my first flight on the corporate jet. I was so excited I could barely contain myself. The day of my flight, I arrived so early that I beat the pilots and everyone else to the airport. When the pilot opened the plane, I landed in a plush leather seat right up front.

One-by-one, top executives boarded. I’d seen their photos on our website but never met them in person. It was a moment of triumph, and I personally greeted each one. We were set to go with a full flight, when another executive arrived as the doors were closing. No seats left, or so I thought.

The good news was that I didn’t get kicked off the flight. The late-boarding executive directed me to the bathroom, where I sat on the toilet for the two-hour flight, except when it was in use, and I stood waiting in the aisle.

I could have experienced this as profoundly humiliating. I could have stormed out and flown commercial as usual. But that day I came to understand a fundamental principle. I’d operated under the impression that corporate was a rigid place to work, but I discovered I could get what I wanted so long as I helped others get what they wanted, too. Turns out that everything is negotiable.

The executive team met together in comfort. I got what I wanted—exchanging a ten-hour flight ordeal for an easy two-hour trip with many of our company’s executives.

Plus, I left with a memorable story that I called upon to break the ice in a future conversation to ask the company to help pay for my MBA. (More about that shortly.)

Once you recognize that everything is negotiable, the next step is to adopt a negotiation perspective every day.

See what happened for my client, Susan.

Adopting a Negotiation Perspective Without Disrespecting Anyone

Susan was sitting at her computer when an email came across from her boss.

“Susan, we need to take a look at your job. They may need you back in Accounting.”

She called me in a panic. “I knew it. They want me to go back to doing accounting work! Just more robotic button pushing.”

She’d spent years making her way out of Accounting and creating the job she loved doing corporate sales and hospitality. She’d heard the rumblings that they needed help in Accounting urgently, and she was afraid. Now that she’d created the job she loved, she didn’t want to lose it.

She immediately went to LinkedIn and started looking at the job boards. She knew if she let this happen, she would be resentful and increasingly angry. But after our conversation, she decided to wait before applying for other jobs and to ask Accounting, “How can I help?”

She discovered that the Accounting department had suffered a lot of turnover and a hiring freeze. Since she’d been so effective previously, the Accounting group was practically begging her boss to send her back.

Later that day I received this text from her: “Ben, I think I can make this work for all of us.”

When I talked to her, she explained that she’d agreed to help Accounting temporarily, but she’d asked in return for additional funds for her sales projects and to hire an outside team to help with her next sales event.

She just had to reframe the situation as a negotiation opportunity rather than another chance to “take one for the team.” She could help Accounting, keep the job she loved, and negotiate for future assistance.

Assume a Negotiation Perspective at Work

Based on my interactions with coworkers and clients, I believe that Susan’s experience is typical. Employees don’t assume a negotiation perspective at work, and that’s a common reason for so much dissatisfaction. Daily life at the office can appear to be one surrender after another.

Imagine your current job with the same salary but more flexibility or more alignment to the work that motivates you? That’s what adopting a negotiation perspective can accomplish.

But most employees make two mistakes. First, they think of negotiation too narrowly, and secondly, they view it as disrespectful. Many seem to think that money is the only negotiable, but in reality there’s a much broader spectrum of conditions to negotiate, and many are much easier to negotiate than money or job title.

Negotiating for a raise or promotion can become very complicated because your boss and even your HR person may not be the final decision maker, and lots of restrictions like job bands and payment structures may limit their flexibility.

Most employees never consider negotiating about such conditions as setting boundaries for checking email or taking business calls at night or on vacation, or redefining work responsibilities, office location, start time, work from home, flex hours, their supervisor, or colleagues.

Making improvements in those areas are often a much smaller hill to climb than changing your salary or title and may lead you farther down the road toward sustaining the job you love.

The second mistake that employees often make is to believe that negotiating on their own behalf is somehow disrespectful to their boss or coworkers.

Negotiating is the ultimate sign of respect, however. It honors the person with whom you’re negotiating, and it honors you because the purpose is a mutually beneficial and satisfying outcome.

So Let There Be Negotiation!

So with this redefined view of daily, respectful negotiation on the job, what’s one small thing you can act on today?

Additional Resources:  

How to Negotiate with Someone More Powerful than You” by Carolyn O’Hara

5 Negotiation Tips to Increase Your Salary in 2015″  by Belma McCaffrey

The Quit Alternative: The Blueprint for Creating the Job You Love….Without Quitting.” by Ben Fanning

Ben Fanning is Chief Engagement Officer at, where he helps employees transform the job they have into the job they love. This article is an excerpt he has adapted from his forthcoming book.

Photo Credit: jnobles100 via Compfight cc