How to Communicate Your Value in a Negotiation

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People don’t always appreciate your value. They need to know why they should deal with you. So you must position yourself, so you feel legitimate. Deborah Kolb likes to tell people, “Performance doesn’t speak for itself. You’re doing a great job and nobody knows.” It’s up to you to negotiate and communicate your value.

Deborah knew the VP of Business Development in a financial services company. She and her husband worked in two different parts of Texas, and she wanted to live where he worked. But the CEO and founder preferred people to be in the local office. To get him to negotiate, she had to make her value visible. So she said, “Let me tell you about all of the new customers we brought in this quarter.” Then she shared what was done to make it happen.

One of Deborah’s favorite stories is about a controller in a tech company. The head of the division told her that she needed to get the sales department to stop overselling because it was putting too much pressure on operations. But the salespeople had zero interest in talking to her, so she did two things. She cut the billing error rate low, so salespeople didn’t have customers calling to complain. She also accelerated the turnaround on expense reports from 40 days to 4 days. Who benefitted? The sales organization. Finding ways to make your value visible is vital to get people to want to negotiate with you.

Consider the counterparty’s BATNA

You can’t forget that there are always reasons someone can say no to your requests. So you have to ask, what are their alternatives if you don’t say yes to something? How do you mobilize a BATNA?

The Manager of Communications at a manufacturing company was asked for help by another division. If they didn’t get the help they needed, they’d likely lose their client to another company. So this manager jumped in to help and saved the client. She presented the situation to the board, and the CEO congratulated her. But because she excelled, they keep asking her to do what she’s doing. She does it because she loves it, but she’s working the equivalent of two jobs. So how does she get them to the negotiation table?

She has to make them see what it costs them. The next time they call, she can say she’s just not physically able to do both jobs anymore. So she mobilizes her value. Her goal is to get a promotion where she has both corporate and government communications under her. The group that she’s helped becomes her ally and advocate. She’s asking the question, “What would they say—or do—if I said no to this?” You have to bring people to the table with you.

Searching for creative options for mutual gain

Another way to show your value in a personal negotiation is to propose multiple options. You also need to ask hypothesis-testing questions in a negotiation. “What if we did it this way?” It engages them differently. You can also start the conversation with a good reason they’d say no, i.e., “I’m really interested in this, but I bet from your perspective it looks like it’s gonna cost a lot.” You also need to connect what’s good for you with what’s good for the organization. You need to show evidence of mutual gain for the two of you and the organization.

Deborah was once talking to the head of financial services at a dinner. He told her that he never negotiates salary. Why? Because when he gives people an offer, it’s fair. People don’t negotiate and imply that he isn’t fair. But he told her a story of a woman that negotiated with him. He had asked her to create a new division. Because of that, she’d be hiring engineers that would be paid higher than her. Her concern was that it would undermine her authority and ability to do the work. He gave her the raise. Why?

She knew she couldn’t just tell him she wanted a specific salary (so she did her research on him). Secondly, she connected what was good for her to the good of the organization. That is critical to your success. It shows that you’re in it together. She also agreed to do it on a trial basis. Deborah jokes that people forget it’s a trial, and it becomes the real thing. It also reduces perceived risk in someone’s head.

The concept of “Moves and turns”

When you know people’s good reasons for saying no, it will come up in the negotiation. If they don’t want to give you what you’re asking for, they’ll say things to put you on the defensive (i.e., “You’re not ready for this” or “it’ll never work.”). People usually respond with a countermove. But instead, you need to understand the reasons they’re saying no and respond with “terms.”

So if they tell you that you’re not ready, how do you respond? Use a correcting term: “I see why it appears that way, but here’s what I did.” If they say, “This will never work,” you can divert the statement and say something like, “What would be a reasonable way to go forward?” If they’re appealing to your empathy, ask what is really concerning them about the transition.

What other strategies can you employ to reach a successful outcome in your personal negotiation? Deborah Kolb shares more in episode #238 of the Negotiations Ninja podcast!