#ExceptionalCareers Series: What You Shouldn't Be Afraid to Do in Negotiations

03/16/2015 06:31 pm ET | Updated May 16, 2015

This post is co-authored with Isabel Dover.

As job offers come in this season, a question on many of readers' minds is How do I negotiate? Negotiations can be uncomfortable territory for college graduates entering the job market and workforce veterans alike. In this piece, we will provide a perspective that can help you approaching negotiations with less trepidation and share tips for moving the conversations forward.

Negotiations can be hard if we approach them based on what we've seen in movies. They are often portrayed as hostile win-lose confrontations or as situations in which both sides are unhappy because of comprises that need to be made.

From this perspective, it's easy to be intimidated by negotiations. We often hold ourselves back because we are worried about what the other party might think of us when we make an ask. What if they hold the ask against us? What if we lose the offer?

Duke sophomore Roma Sonik took a seminar on "Women and Negotiations" as part of the Baldwin Scholars , a women's mentorship and leadership program at the University. Sonik applied the tools from the seminar to make the following ask with confidence.

She was recently offered a competitive summer internship with a strict 2 day deadline for response. It was a wonderful job opportunity for Sonik, but she required more time to work out the details. She explained to the potential employer that she could not reach a decision in 48 hours, and explained concerns around security.

When I shared the reasoning behind my ask, my employer contacted institutions in region to make sure that my living conditions would be extremely secure. She (my future boss) later complimented me for making my concerns and values clear. That I was able to communicate with her about what I found important turned out to be a positive point rather than a burden--she was glad that I trusted the relationship enough to make it productive.

Sonik shares her perspectives with fellow students at a session hosted by Baldwin Scholars.

"Negotiations have opened my eyes to new possibilities," Sonik continues.

'No' doesn't necessarily always mean 'no.' If you are persistent, understanding and reasonable, there's nothing that you can't do. The more I see things in the light of negotiating, the better I become at crafting more creative, benefit-all solutions and the more I see the glass as 'half-full,' be it in relationships, careers, or classes.

So here's a takeaway perspective: When people make you an offer, they've already made up their minds that you are who they want. At this point, the negotiation means coming to an agreement about what conditions make it feasible for you to join them. This is an agreement that guarantees you will have what you need in order to be the best contributor possible. This requires a good deal of self-awareness -- knowing what you need in order to perform your best.

"The key to a successful outcome when negotiating is to know your preferences and priorities and then ask for them, " commented, Ashleigh Rosette, Associate Professor at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business. In addition to being a noted management scholar, Rosette also teaches MBA classes on negotiations.

At its core, negotiations are an integration of different sets of demands and priorities. That means, the points up for negotiations should be things of value to both parties. From this perspective, you shouldn't just negotiate just for the sake of negotiating or because others say you should. But rather, negotiate for the things that can make you perform your best.

In thinking about these needs, think outside of just salaries or numbers. Some other considerations might be the title of your position, moving expenses, or starting date. For example, if you are going to be in a metropolitan city with high cost of living, you need a salary that will satiate your basic needs. If you don't feel that your title does justice to the work that you are doing or the service you are providing, then include this as part of the negotiation conversation.

People on the other side of the table appreciate the honesty. No one has the time to second-guess or read minds. You owe it to yourself and your employer to be honest.

Negotiations will continue to be a part of everyone's career, and can occur outside of job offers.

When Roopa Foley, Managing Director at Barclays, had her first child, she went through a reflection exercise about how to best integrate family and work.

Foley shared with us:

At that time I realized I could actually control the outcome of this. If I could let other people know what I needed, then I could actually work, enjoy my life and in the process, be even better at my job. So I came back to work and told my manager that while I could come into the office as early as necessary, I wanted to leave at 5:00 pm on most days so I could spend the valuable evening hours with my young family

I told her that I would log back in at night and over the weekend , in order to complete any incomplete tasks as a compromise. I suggested that we give it a three month trial to see whether the arrangement worked or not. She just said yes. I was shocked. I was terrified to ask, because I thought that they were never going to say yes, but they did.

Not only did they say yes, but Foley continued her rise up the ladder, eventually moving to a part time schedule when she was promoted to Managing Director. Knowing what she needed and openly asking for it together with a reasonable proposal allowed her to establish optimal working conditions which resulted in her best contributions.

If you really understand why something is important to you, it will be easier for you to contextualize it for the person across the table. So negotiations begin with self-awareness - knowing yourself, what drives you, what makes you perform at your best. So start by asking yourself these 3 questions:

  • What are my basic needs or non-negotiables?
  • What is the ideal outcome?
  • What is the zone of possible agreement or range of options in between these two?
At the end of the day, if you know yourself and what you need to be the best contributor, then you can frame the thinking and be fearless about making the ask. Your ask will be reasonable, receivable and respected.