Negotiating With Your Boss or Anyone of Greater Rank or Status

May 18, 2015 By Irma Tyler Wood

The skill of effectively negotiating with those above you, i.e., “negotiating up,” is critical to your success in any organization.  Leaders need those on the leadership team to deliver hard truths and critical information they may not be eager to hear.  How you go about delivering that information will determine whether you are viewed with respect and appreciation or whether you get viewed as a, “trouble maker,” or, “not a team player.” 

Negotiating with your leader begins long before there is an issue. You need to sit down and discuss with him or her.  The negotiation, influencing and persuading your boss to do what you want done, began when you demonstrated competence and skill at your job.  Job competence and skill gives you enormous credibility when you raise an issue.  The negotiation began when on an ongoing basis, you kept your boss informed of key information he/she needed to achieve the organizations goals or deal with its challenges.  That kind of communication builds a sense of trust and reliability.  The negotiation began when you worked to develop a relationship with your boss based on trust, mutual respect, and the ability to have candid, open communication.  Later in this blog, we’ll discuss what to do if you don’t have the kind of working relationship, credibility and communication you need to have with your boss.

Preparing for the negotiation is key.  This person has enormous power to shape your future in the organization, you want to be well prepared.  There are a number of questions you need to ask and answer to be well prepared:         

  1. What is my goal for this negotiation and how does that goal tie into the interests of the organization and my boss’s interests?
  2. What is my current working relationship with my boss; what do I want it to be at the end of the negotiation, regardless of whether he/she says yes or no to my request?
  3. What data and information will I need to make a persuasive case?
  4. From my boss’s perspective, what are the downsides to saying yes to my request?  What might he/she be worried about if he said yes?
  5. Is it wiser to negotiate directly with my boss or to provide someone he/she respects and listens to with the information needed to make my case? 

Once you’ve asked and answered these questions of yourself and/or of trusted advisors, you’re ready to prepare your strategy for the negotiation.  Use the Seven Element Framework© to prepare.

Strategic Advice For “Negotiating Up”

  1. Frame the negotiation as an effort to solve a mutual problem or achieve a mutual goal. 
  2. If possible, tie your request to a goal, concern or objective the boss has.  You are bound to get his/her attention and time by addressing something he/she cares about.
  3. Always lead with the business case for what you are asking for.  Even if the issue seems personal, i.e., a raise or promotion, lead with why and how your request addresses a critical business or organizational goal or need. 
  4. Bring your boss a solution, not just a problem.  Walk in with several options for how the issue you raised might be addressed and be explicit about the pros and cons of each option and what you recommend.
  5. Listen deeply to his/her responses.  Deep listening means listening for meaning, tone, pace, emotion.  It means asking questions for a deeper understanding, it means watching body language which is a more accurate predictor of the inner emotional state than any words uttered. 
  6. If you aren’t clear about the problem or the goal or how best to achieve or solve it, propose a process by which the answers can be determined, i.e.  if we put together a task force with members from marketing and manufacturing, I think we can come up with the best answers.
  7. Timing is critical; If the organization is in crisis, or it’s the busiest time of the year, schedule the negotiation for a time when your boss is likely to be less stressed and better able to focus on your request.
  8. If the urgency of the matter doesn’t allow you to wait to address the issue, acknowledge the fact that you know it’s not the best time and explain why you are choosing to raises the issue now.  If your boss still says now is not a good time, ask when would be a good time and whether you should talk with someone who reports to him who might be more accessible at the moment.
  9. If you don’t have a good working relationship with your boss or your boss doesn’t even know you exist, consider:
    1. Postponing your request while you develop and execute a strategy to improve the working relationship.
    2. Schedule an informal lunch or breakfast to address the relationship issue, i.e., I know I failed to deliver on last year’s goals, but I wanted to update you on my progress since then, or, I would like to improve the working relationship we have so that we can work more productively together, what advice do you have for me?  Then listen and don’t argue with the advice, it will tell you volumes.
    3. Negotiating with an influencer instead of the boss, someone whom the boss respects and to whom he/she listens
  10. Solicit criticism of your proposal or request, i.e., “What would be wrong with __________? Or, “What problems would doing _______ present?”  If you don’t have good answers to the boss’s concerns, ask for time to consider them and come back later with some options that address those concerns.

Read my next blog on May 20, 2015 to find out what not to do when negotiating with your boss.