How to Negotiate Salary When You're Friends with Your Boss

by Staff - Original publish date: January 23, 2013

Hello Jack,

I was hired 21 years ago as a nurse practitioner by an MD. The salary was low and the benefits average. I was told salary would increase over time once I proved myself. Nine years later there's hardly any increase in salary even though my employee reviews were always above average. When asked why no raise, the physician responded with folded arms and said "this is my business." The next day I gave a 30-day resignation notice to open my own practice.

The doctor then asks for a meeting and says she needs changes, and am I willing to talk. I asked if she was willing to pay and she said yes. After four months of weekly negotiations, I get convinced she has changed. She offers me a decent salary with the promise of it continuing to grow with time. We agree on quarterly reviews.

But the reviews didn't happen and when approached, she doesn't want to discuss it. Four years later, I say the meetings must happen. I give the data, she takes two months to review, and I am told she's not going to honor what we've discussed. She's only willing to keep the status quo.

I was in a state of shock for two months, then I had a brief meeting stating I need a clarification regarding our working arrangement. I handed her all the work we did, highlighting the areas that are in conflict (what was said would happen and what hasn't happened). We had developed a friendship while in negotiations 4 years ago, even becoming tennis partners. But now am getting the cold shoulder and I don't know what to do about it. HELP!

Your letter indicates several areas of salary negotiations that need attention in your case.

First of all, it's always important to get things in writing. A simple follow-up e-mail, or hard copy, that summarizes the discussion and the next steps helps prevent people changing their mind, and changing their memories. Second, you are much too patient. When dealing with compensation 12 months out is about as far as you should go, and that's even extreme. In your case I would've helped to negotiate things not only right away, but sooner than right away:  retroactively. Even if you don't actually get retroactive pay, asking for it will help clarify in black and white your contributions, upon which your salary is based.

Third, it's time for you to come up with your BATNA. That stands for Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. In negotiations you always need to know what your bottom line, "no go" value is. Once you have that it's time to kick in the alternative to saying yes. So unless you have a BATNA that is acceptable, you have no negotiating leverage.

It sounds to me, however, that you do have an alternative: being in business for yourself. Your employer has consistently overriden many many years that she doesn't intend to pay you what you are asking. I don't think you can change that. As far as the cold shoulder goes,it's just another negotiating tactic and you should ignore it. If you don't go into business for yourself, go find another employer whom you can respect and earn what you deserve.

Good luck,

Jack Chapman is a Career and Salary Coach, and author of "Negotiating Your Salary: How to Make $1000 a Minute." For more negotiating advice go to or e-mail

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