Hands up if you’re dreading your next salary and performance review? 

Don’t feel bad. Having trained over 3,000 managers and executives in the art of negotiating, I’ve seen some of the toughest and most experienced commercial negotiators fold under pressure when the topic turns to their own employment. 

It’s not easy — you’re personally invested in the outcome, and you’re joined at the hip to the other side – your boss – once the deal is agreed.  

But fear not! Here are a few tips to help you negotiate like a boss at your next performance review… 

1) Stop Negotiating With Yourself 

“One woman says she can; another says she cannot. They are both right.” 

Okay, I’ve tweaked this famous quote from Confucius, but it’s still true — we must calm that inner voice that tells us we can’t. 

Most people tend to focus their planning time worrying about their weaknesses, not focused on their sources of strength. 

Negotiating leverage comes from understanding the needs, wants, priorities and fears of the other side. If you really take the time to work out what your boss wants to achieve this year, her goals and vision, and her “pain points,” you’ll be in a much better position to negotiate.  

Can you help her avoid the loss of key staff? Help hit her financial goals? Mentor others on the team? Support that new marketing initiative? If she values it, and you can help, that’s real leverage. 

On the flip side, what negative things could you help her avoid? What’s the consequence for your boss if you left? What would it cost to replace you and train someone else up from scratch? 

It’s much cheaper to keep a good employee than to find one. Remember – negotiating is about them, not just you. 

2) Be Specific

Let’s face it: “I want a raise” is vague. 

Have a clear set of objectives and know your priorities – but don’t just focus on money.  What other issues are important? An extra week of vacation, the ability to work from home, or access to that critical but expensive training class, might all be more valuable to you in the long term than a raise. 

For each major issue, write down a specific goal — and be realistic (a company car might make sense, a Ferrari probably doesn’t). 

If you’re stuck on how far to push, consider the “red face test.” Ask yourself what’s the most rewarding thing you could ask for without blushing. If you can deliver it confidently, and support it with logic, then it’s probably about right. 

3) Split the Meeting in Half 

Plan the negotiation with your boss in two halves: 

  • a “Discovery” phase, where you find out your boss’ goals and priorities, and set her expectations (broadly) on the things that are important for you.
  • a “Proposal” phase where you take that information and make a specific proposal that addresses both sides’ needs. 

Playing darts with a blindfold might be fun, but it’s not a great negotiating strategy!  Take the time for that Discovery phase. 

4) Adopt the SPICE GIRLS Strategy 

Baby Spice had it right all along: “Ahh, tell me what you want, what you really, really want!” 

Be brave, be optimistic, and act to make that first proposal. By anchoring the negotiation with the first credible proposal, rather than letting them start things off, you’re much more likely to end up with what you want. 

Prepare your boss for the proposal.  For example, as you wrap up your discovery meeting, say something like: 

“Thanks for helping me understand your goals for revenue growth and staff retention. I’d like to come back to you tomorrow with a considered proposal that will help us meet these goals, and move my career towards that Director role I discussed. How does that sound?” 

5) Don’t Be Afraid of Dr. NO

Make your proposal, seek a response, and then? Listen. 

If your boss says no, be curious — not defensive. Ask which bits she likes, which bits she doesn’t, and why. Then be ready to reshape the deal to address any genuine problems. It helps if you’ve prepared a “Wish List” of nice-to-haves in advance, so you can trade any concessions rather than giving them away. 

A Final Thought… 

In all my years of running businesses, the staff I valued most were the ones who were prepared to negotiate with me. I wanted to retain those people; they were confident, and they cared about my goals. That meant they were probably doing a better job of negotiating with our clients and suppliers than those who just politely accepted an offer letter that came out of a machine. 

Be brave, be optimistic, and negotiate. 

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