What Not To Do When Negotiating With Your Boss or Anyone with Greater Power or Authority

June 12, 2015 By Irma Tyler Wood

In my last blog, I advised you on what you should do when negotiating with your boss or with anyone with higher authority or greater power than you have.  In this blog, I’m sharing a few things you should avoid doing.

  1. As a general rule, don’t negotiate with your boss when either of you are emotionally upset or angry.  If, during the negotiations, emotions start to get out of control, take a deep breath and slow the conversation down.  Try and reschedule the negotiation or take a break. 

Examples of what to say:

  • “This issue seems to have raised a lot of strong emotion, I wonder if we could break for five minutes so that I can think more calmly about this issue.”
  • “Obviously you feel very strongly about this issue, tell me what I’m missing or don’t understand. “
  1. If you are surprised by anything that happens in the negotiation, consider expressing your surprise and buying time to reflect on and consider what you’ve learned. 

Examples of what to say:

  • “That was information I did not have, I’d like some time to consider the implications of what you’ve raised.”
  • “You’ve raised some really valid points that I’d like to consider; can we continue this meeting after I’d had time to reflect on what I just learned?  Then set a specific time to get back to your boss.
  1. When pressured for information you don’t have or a decision or commitment that you aren’t prepared to make, set a specific time to get back to your boss. 

Examples of what to say:

  • “This is too important an issue for me not to be clear about all the facts before I give you my opinion, can I get back to you first thing tomorrow morning?” 
  1. Never lie; if you don’t know, acknowledge that you don’t know.  The best thing to do is anticipate the kinds of questions your boss is going to ask, and check them out with him before the meeting, i.e., “I’m assuming you will need the following information in order to make a decision on X, did I leave anything out?”  Better yet send him or her a proposed agenda for your session, ask what he/she would like to add.  That way each of you knows what will be required during the negotiation session.
  2. Most of this advice assumes you have a rational, intelligent, emotionally healthy boss who does not yell, scream or intimidate.  If this is not true:
    1. Consult with HR about how to handle the situation.
    2. Bring a colleague to witness the negotiation.  People are less likely to misbehave in front of witnesses.
    3. Talk with a senior person you trust and ask for advice.
    4. Do not accept verbal, mental or physical abuse:
      1. Excuse yourself, i.e., I’ll come back after you’ve calmed down
      2. I can’t think or work well when I’m yelled at, should we schedule this meeting for a later time.
      3. Consider your BATNA, strengthen it and work to make his/hers look less attractive.

Keep your BATNA, (your BEST Alternative to A Negotiated Agreement) with your boss in your back pocket.  Raising your BATNA is likely to be seen as a threat, and it’s not a good idea to threaten anyone, let alone your boss.  If you raise it at all, it should be near the end of the negotiation, after you’ve exhausted the other six elements, interests, options legitimacy, communication and relationship.  If you decide to raise it, do so carefully and constructively.  As a general rule, don’t mention your BATNA unless it’s being underestimated and you know it’s better than your boss understands, i.e., “I want to continue to work for this company, however, the other company has made me an offer for more money than I’m currently making.  With college tuition to take care of and a mortgage to pay off, I may be forced to consider their offer, if we can’t find a mutually agreeable solution.”  Never discuss your alternatives unless you are willing to follow through on them.  Otherwise you develop the reputation for bluffing and you won’t be taken seriously.   

Avoid making the negotiation a power struggle; you are setting up a win/lose negotiation and the person most likely to lose will be you.  Instead, frame the issue as a problem to be solved, or an idea to be explored.  Don’t walk in with answers, walk in with good questions and be open to persuasion.   Acknowledge any legitimate concerns your boss has, tie those to common interests you both share and then brainstorm options for possible solutions.   

Finally, when you have to deliver news you know your boss doesn’t want to hear, but which, as a responsible employee, you must deliver, soften the blow.  Begin by sharing your concern about the impact of the information, i.e., “I’m concerned that you may hear what I’m about to say as an attack, that is not my intent.  I want you to be aware of perceptions that can get in the way of your achieving your goals.”  Ideally, you would address these issues before there is a problem.  At the very beginning of your working relationship, talk to your boss about how he/she wants to hear bad news. Ask them about how you can build a sense of trust and integrity between you.