Lately, it seems we've gotten a lot of calls for assistance with what we call "negotiating up." We all seem to be tasked with doing more with less lately — raises are few and far between, but so are resources required to get our jobs done. At the same time, with scaled back workforces and tighter budgets, somehow there doesn't seem to be less work to be done — just more with fewer people to divide it amongst. The result is an increase in difficult but important conversations with those we don't have power or authority over — management, our direct superiors, company policy or even lateral players.

    Sometimes, there's not much we can do about this — in fact, many would say we should be grateful to be employed with additional responsibility. But I don't think that's a reason to avoid important conversations and, often enough, no matter how hard we want and try to evade them, they end up happening just the same — either because they bubble up and over or because they just can't be brushed under the rug any longer.

    So what are we to do when these difficult negotiations and circumstances arise? How are we supposed to "stand up for ourselves" and influence those we have no control over, who often have authority over us, to make decisions, strategic decisions, that make sense for us, them and the company/organization as a whole?

    The first piece of advice we would offer would be to take a step back before raising the issue. Are you upset? angry? frustrated? What's your purpose in bringing this up? To vent? influence? get even? These are important items to consider. When strong "negative" emotions loom, it's often not the best time to conduct this type of important conversation. Rather, take the opportunity to either check in with yourself about what's bothering you and make a plan for following up when you've gathered your thoughts and can speak about the situation more calmly, or take some time to vent to a friend or colleague. Blowing off steam can be helpful, but it's got to be done in the right way — most of the time, that's NOT to your boss! 

    Second, when you do decide to conduct the conversation, focus on their interests — those core needs, desires and motivating factors that keep this person you're speaking with going. We all have them. The trick is to find out what interests of theirs are being met through your proposal — and to have the conversation at that level before you make your request. Help them see how what you're asking for is in their best Interests.

    Remember though, we must often work hard to connect the dots. For example, while you may want some much-needed vacation time, your boss may be completely focused on productivity and profitability. Surely your taking time off would work in direct contrast to your boss' goals, right? But we have to look deeper — employee satisfaction, rest and rejuvenation all lead to productivity and retention in the long run. The question in this case lies in the difference between short-term and long-term thinking. The goal is to ensure that the people you're speaking with understand that you've considered the pros and cons and have their interests in mind (as well as your own, by the way). You must portray that what you're asking for is consistent with what you both want.

    Finally, consider utilizing transparency as a tool. This essentially means you're giving them an inside view to your thought process — the behind the scenes of your thinking. Transparency can work in a number of ways.

    For example, you might want to consider providing your listener with a list of your goals and intentions behind your request before making it. This act in and of itself will mitigate the chances of their misinterpreting your intentions or your goals, which is often the cause of conflict in the first place. In the example of asking for time off, you may state your dual commitments to your job and your family as well as the need for some necessary rest and relaxation, all with the purpose of getting you back to work as a happy and healthy employee. The goal is to frame the request in a way that they can relate to and understand — this makes it that much easier to appreciate and that much harder to turn down.

    You might also try to help them understand that you've considered all implications from their perspective before making the request. Though many of us do this, we often fail to communicate that critical step to the other side — and it can make a big difference. We like to think others will give us the benefit of the doubt for having done our due diligence and for having strong analytical skills. Unfortunately, that's not often the case — especially when, on the surface, your request seems so inconsistent with their thinking.

    In the case of a request for program funding in a down economy, it may sound something like, "I've been thinking a lot about our efforts to maintain profitability in this economy. I know we're working hard to limit our expenses, but I think I have an idea for an investment that would boost sales/retention/customer satisfaction/etc. significantly and would pay for itself in a short period of time."

    Again, the goal here is to help them understand that you've considered both sides of the argument already and that you've come to the conclusion you've arrived at in an intelligent and thoughtful manner.

    Please remember — these are often long and difficult conversations. Should you be offered five minutes or a conversation in the hallway, use that time to negotiate for a longer window of opportunity — when you can discuss the situation in a relaxed manner and devote the time necessary to engage and be persuasive. Sometimes we need to slow conversations down a bit in order to move them along. If you're pushed to speak quickly and "cut to the chase," you will most likely miss the opportunity to utilize the concepts mentioned in this article.

    Stephen Frenkel is the Director of Negotiation Programs at MWI, a negotiation training and consulting firm based in Boston, Massachusetts. Stephen can be reached at sfrenkel@mwi.org or at 800-348-4888 x24. More information about MWI can be found at www.mwi.org/negotiation 

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