In a Q & A (question and answer) session I did for the internet based forum Quora: I answered the question “What’s the worst mistake you can make in salary negotiations with this answer: “Simply saying “yes” or “I accept” to an offer. I was having dinner with a CEO friend of mine the other night & he actually said to me he’s disappointed when a new prospective employee simply accepts the offer. He wants to see a counter-offer, or a good question about the package or nearly anything that shows the person knows how to respectfully feel out his position.
Everybody he hires is both an employee and an ambassador for him. He wants people who listen well, who are respectful and he can advance his own interests. You can at least gently test out a salary/job offer respectfully without being challenging or having them pull it off the table.
You want to open up the discussion in a way that shows that your vision of your success is not just focused on you, but on the whole company. That way, they don’t see you as being self-centered. It helps them see that what’s-in-it-for-them, by paying you more, or giving you more is actually a brighter future for them.”
I’d like to expand on that a little bit and give you the ways to explore the space between offer and acceptance – the space between “yes” and “no”. Use the tool I refer to as labels!
“It seems like…” “It sounds like…” “It looks like…” Followed by effective pauses.
It’s critical to not “step” on your label by following it with a question or some sort of an explanation. You’ve got to let them sink in.
“It seems like there’s some flexibility in this package?”
“It sounds like there’s more here?”
“It seems like you have some ranges in mind?”
“It looks like you’ve used certain criteria to come up with this offer?”
Labels are a great way to gather more information and to test positions in a way that doesn’t make people feel backed into a corner. They’re effective in place of questions where basically you’d normally be looking for just a “yes” or a “no” and they always get more information. They open up conversations and dialog in a really gentle, yet quietly firm ways.
Labels are gently way to dig deeper. They’re really just observations.
Salary negotiations are particularly important because as I’ve said before, people are testing you as both a co-worker and an ambassador. They really don’t want you to be a push over and they don’t want you to be a jerk. Salary negotiations shouldn’t be limited to just salary. Salary pays your mortgage but terms build your career.
“It seems like there’s a bigger picture here for this position?”
“It looks like your company has a future vision I fit into.”
“It seems like this position fits a broader need within the company.”
“It looks like there’s some built in opportunities for professional development?”
“It looks like this position fits a critical need.”
These labels can also be expressed as statements or as opposed to (or in addition to) expressing them as questions. (Any of these can be tailored that way.)
In many cases, making a straight observation is something that your counterparts or interviewing panels will appreciate. Counterparts appreciate someone with insight who “gets it”. Labels are a great way to demonstrate competence and insight. Both of these are characteristics that either merit a higher offer now, or position you for one down the line.
Please remember, plan for your success with good terms within the overall package that build your career. Labels help you flesh that out and build the success of both your career and your employer!
Chris Voss was the FBI’s Lead International Kidnapping Negotiator and now teaches how to win in business negotiations using hostage negotiation strategies. His new book “Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It” is available on Amazon.
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