How to Find the Turning Point in Any Negotiation

by Staff - Original publish date: May 6, 2013

When viewed as a whole, life can seem like an exercise in routine, marked by several key turning points. Think about the important life-decisions you’ve made. Whether it’s deciding to go to an event at the last minute (and then meeting your future spouse) or introducing yourself to someone at a networking event (who told you about a job opening that embarks you on a new career path), you can often look back and see a clear marker where everything fell into place.

As I continue to work with private clients to help them negotiate job offers, I’m starting to see distinct patterns. In every session there is a turning point, a moment when there is a significant breakthrough that enables a person to have a very good chance at succeeding in gaining the maximum offer for a position.

To make a distinction, I’m going to talk about the mental mindset and preparation of a person getting ready to negotiate their compensation. In terms of the negotiation itself, that is usually more of a multi-step, slow build toward a victory. It starts with navigating the initial screening process, making it through multiple interviews, doing your homework, proving your value in the marketplace, getting the offer, making an effective counter-offer, and closing the deal.

In order to have the right mindset to go through all those steps successfully, you need to reach your own turning point first. Here’s how I normally see it progress:

The first part of the call is spent going over the details of the situation, because every opportunity is different. Are you getting an offer for a new position? Changing industries? Moving to a new city? Asking for a big promotion? There are dozens of variables to take into account. 

Second, we determine the best approach to take given the client’s personality, relationship with the interviewer, and specific needs (higher salary, more vacation, etc). For most, a face-to-face discussion is best, since you can get feedback on the fly, and quickly drill down to a resolution. But it can also be trickier because you need to be far more prepared and be able to think on your feet. For others, the negotiation is done over email. This could be because they are interviewing in another city, the employer initiated the offer over email, or they are more introverted and prefer to take the time to craft the perfect response in writing.

The main outcome of our call is carefully crafting a specific script to be used when replying to an offer or asking for a raise. During the initial brainstorm, I am usually churning out phrases in a free-flowing, stream-of-consciousness manner while the client franticly writes down the words as quickly as they can. Often times they will ask me to repeat something, but I can’t remember because every time it comes out a little bit different (and hopefully a little bit better).

For example, a phrase might evolve as follows:

  • "When I looked at my value in the marketplace, I was hoping for something more in the $80,000 range."
  • "When I looked at my research and determined my value in the marketplace, I was looking for something in the $80,000 to $90,000 range."
  • "When I consulted the research that I had done, which looked at the value of someone with my skills in this marketplace, it fell into the $80,000 to $90,000 range."

Lastly, we roleplay a scenario and put the client "in the moment," with me playing the part of the hiring manager and them in the hot seat responding to a job offer or asking for a raise. The first few times, the client is nervous and clearly reading back their notes. Without fail, they stumble over their words, talk too fast or too much, and it feels exactly like what it is -- someone reading the notes that a coach told them to say.

This can happen to anyone. Think how effortless your favorite actor looks when they are performing in a movie. Now picture them awkwardly reading a terrible joke that someone else wrote for them off a teleprompter at an awards presentation. It’s night and day.

My favorite phrase becomes "let’s try it again." The first few times through, I am making changes to the brainstormed phrases that I originally came up with. Hearing my words out loud from someone else makes it so much easier to create a more focused response. 

The next few times through, there may be a particular word that gets changed. For example, in a situation where everything else is great (salary, benefits, title, etc) but they’d like to ask for an additional week of vacation, the client might say, "I’d like to thank you so much for the job offer. I’ve looked it over and it looks great, but there’s one thing I have a problem with."

Instead of using the word "problem," which indicates something negative and might put the hiring manager on the defensive, I might advise them to change it ever so slightly to “It looks great, but there's one area I’d like to ask you about."

Each time the job-seeker practices their lines, it sinks in a bit more. They naturally rearrange words to fit their style of conversation, add their own cadence and inflection, and build confidence with each successive round.

And then the turning point happens.

There's a change in mindset in the client, and they stop merely saying the words that they had written on the page, and start articulating their honest feedback and requests around the situation.

It’s really amazing to see it happen, and it completely changes everything. I’m able to draw out of them the reasons why they might deserve a raise, such as specific education and training, revenue impact to the bottom line, positive client feedback, and knowing the value of their skills on the market. It’s only after putting that together in a summarized paragraph and saying it out loud themselves that it really hits home that all of these things are true and they honestly deserve an increase. When that lightbulb goes on, it’s just as rewarding for me as it is for them.

In reality it’s nothing new -- the job search version of "practice makes perfect." Much the same way that actor rehearses his/her lines until it comes natural or an athlete visualizes victory, playing out the scenario in advance can only lead to a better chance at success. 

It’s interesting that the average American spends about 6 hours a month on Facebook -- and 4-5 hours per day watching TV -- yet just a short time prepping for an interview that can make them thousands of dollars. Looking for a shortcut to get to that mindset? Doing homework leads to confidence. And confidence leads to a winning negotiation. Let’s look at some examples.

  • If you’re making $50,000 and asking for a raise to $55,000, you can (and should) come to your boss with industry data you found online to make your case. But will you be 100% confident if they come back at you and say something like "That data isn’t relevant for our industry." However, if you can get an interview at another competitor and they make you an offer for $55,000, suddenly you know without a doubt what your skills are worth on the marketplace.
  • If you want to make the point that your work is contributing to the bottom line, that’s great. Better yet is to really dig into the numbers and create a detailed report illustrating the exact projects you worked on and the specific dollar figures that your helped achieve. It’s hard to argue with real data.
  • If you get an offer that includes $3,500 in moving expenses, it’s one thing to say “That feels a little low.” You’ll have more confidence if you can say "I took the time to get quotes from three different moving companies, consulted the federal government’s mileage allowance guidelines for vehicle reimbursement for moving expenses, and factored in the cost-of-living difference for both cities, and the number came out to $4,934."

When you’re making a major career transition, it’s easy to simply go through the motions of a performance review or changing jobs and follow the same routine. But for best results, focus on creating, rehearsing, and believing in your career story, and you’ll be able to look back later in life and recognize that key turning point.