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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

Negotiating on the Job: Your Play-by-Play Guide

This week, our negotiation expert Victoria Pynchon is tackling a reader’s tricky question: Can you negotiate without leaving your current job? 

Over the past week, we’ve shown you that you have bargaining power—even at your own company—and we’ve taught you how to prepare for a negotiation.

And now it’s time for the toughest part of the negotiation process: actually having the conversation. But don’t be intimidated—be prepared. This sample script will show you how to approach your current boss and ask for a promotion or raise, from start to finish.

Your Negotiation Script

You: I asked for a meeting with you today to talk about my total compensation package. As you know, I’ve been a loyal and productive employee of Company X for [blank] years now. I know we’ve come through the worst of the recession, a time during which I [and everyone on my team or and everyone else who saw the company through these difficult times] threw everything we had behind the company’s success.

Your Negotiation Partner: Of course we appreciate everyone’s work but, as you know, our hard times aren’t yet over.

You: Yes, I know the company’s position, though improved, still has a far way to go to. I know we’re working to achieve several goals, including [list the goals you’re going to help the company achieve and those for which your negotiation partner is responsible].

Your Negotiation Partner: It’s still a tough economy and a lot of people are out of work.

You: I know. And now is the time I feel like I can give the company my absolute best. As you know, however, no one in my department has been given a meaningful raise since 2008 [or from the beginning of time]. I’d like to make the company a proposal that I believe will enable me to deliver the highest value possible to allow it to meet its goals and to compensate me fairly for my contribution.

Your Negotiation Partner: We’re not giving anyone more than a 2% raise this year.

You: Interesting. I’d love to talk to you about the basis for that decision. But first, I’d like to lay out my proposal.

Your Negotiation Partner: [reluctantly] OK, but it won’t do you any good.

You: Here are the elements of my proposal. [This can be communicated either orally or as a list you ask your negotiation partner to walk through with you.]

  1. During the coming year, I plan to do X, Y, and Z, all of which I believe will significantly advance the goals we’ve discussed.
  2. If we meet those goals, the company’s bottom line should be increased by $X [or, if you can’t monetize the company’s return on its investment in your plan, then name other benefits, such as reducing attrition or absenteeism or improving recruiting or teamwork].
  3. To achieve these results, I’ll likely be putting in additional time, which I’m happy to do. If the company believes in its own future as much as I do, I’m certain it will want to compensate me for my fair market value.
  4. I’ve done some benchmarking, and the job I’m already doing would cost our company $X if it had to go out on the market and find a replacement.
  5. Your Negotiation Partner: Are you threatening to leave if you don’t get what you want?

    You: No, not at all! I simply wanted to recalibrate my market value given the recession’s impact on everyone’s compensation. I love this company. I don’t have any present intention of even looking for a different job [note the word “present”]. In any event, the current rate for someone with my education, training, and experience working in this industry in this city is $_______ [your highest reasonably well-supported market value].

    Your Negotiation Partner: Like I said, we’re only giving 2% raises this year across the board and there are no exceptions. [This, of course, is not true. There are always exceptions.]

    You: That must make compensation discussions difficult for you. I assume you have the discretion to make an exception if it were justified. If not, could we both talk to the person who does? I think we might be able to make a good case for both of us getting more than the “across the board” 2% raise this year.

    Of course there’s potential for this course to fail, but you’ve set up many good reasons why your employer should incentivize you to give the company your best this year. I’ve made your hypothetical employer pretty rigid. She has fallen back on company policy and undeviating rules throughout the negotiation. That generally indicates a lack of authority to act or a fear of acting based upon a hidden interest or constraint.

    By enlarging the potential benefits of your negotiation to include an increase for your bargaining partner, you are disrupting the bureaucratic lines of authority and making it clear that what’s good for you will also be good for your co-workers, even if they are senior to you.

    If I were faced by this stonewalling technique, I would continue to gently pull my negotiation partner along a new, more exciting, more lucrative path. If she remains adamant that she has no authority to make any changes, I would ask her if she would be willing to revisit the issue next month or even next week. We too often forget that people need time to think about any new or unusual information that comes their way.

    “Let’s keep the conversation going,” I’d say. “There are so many working parts that can be included in a deal that benefits both of us that I’m very optimistic we can fulfill your needs, mine, and the company’s at the same time.”

    Then go back to your job and start making your bargaining partner’s life a lot easier. You’ll be amazed at the result.

    Photo of woman negotiating courtesy of Shutterstock.