In last week’s Office Politics post (Office Politics: The Not So Innocent Bystander), I may have ad-libbed an ending that implied something about wage negotiations. Someone asked me to expand on that.

Um – as they should have. Because now that I’ve gone back and re-read the post, I feel like there were leaps of logic that aren’t exactly evident on the page*.
*For the interested, the logic went something like this: people don’t say anything in a crowd, because they expect someone else to say something; and it works the same way in an office, for good things as well as bad things; so if you’re expecting to be recognised for your work, then you need to say something; because everyone else is expecting everyone else to say something, which means that no one will say anything; so if you don’t do it yourself, nought will happen.

Given that, I thought I’d just retract the statement and write an entirely new post on the art of negotiation. And I’m not going to bore you with the new age mantras of “prepare” and “be flexible from time to time” and all that trifle. Because that’s just common sense.

No – this is going to be a post about tactics.

So I went searching for inspiration on Planet Money (in case no one has noticed, I have a bad case of blog crush), and found this:

Episode 425: An FBI Hostage Negotiator Buys A Car

The Bargaining Strategies

Know Thy BATNA

BATNA is an acronym for “Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement”. Or, in layman’s terms, what you’ll do if the negotiation does not go your way.

So to stick with the wage negotiation scenario, here’s a trade-off:

The Employer BATNA: the negotiations fail, the employee hands in their resignation, and the employer has to run interviews and train people and be generally annoyed by life and the unreliability of people. But they get an employee at the salary package that they’re willing to pay.

The Employee BATNA: the negotiations fail, you hand in your resignation, and you go off to interviews with other companies and get harrassed by recruiters and get generally annoyed by life and the unreliability of people. But you find a job with a salary package that you’re willing to work for.

Now obviously, these positions are generally unequal. The skilled employee who has made himself/herself indispensable is going to leave his/her employer with a terrible BATNA. More like a NATNA. As in: no alternative.

The minimum wage worker? Let’s just say that this avenue isn’t for you.

The Nibble

Also known as the “oh – and just one more thing that we didn’t talk about” approach.

It’s where you agree in general principle, and then follow it with a number of small, seemingly-inconsequential, requests that it would seem churlish of your opponent to refuse.

For example: agreeing to a general cost of company package, then asking for two days of extra leave in the new year. And enquiring as to the possibility of a small fuel allowance for some of your client visits. And perhaps an option to reclaim some of the expenses that you’ve been incurring on your cellphone.

You know – nothing unreasonable. But $10 here and a tank of fuel there… I mean, it all adds up.

And if this makes you feel like a weasel, just remember that most employers are proficient at nibbling. A little extra task here, a little “would you mind” there…

Expanding The Pie

It’s the food version of “thinking out of the box” – and I think I prefer it. Particularly since ’tis the season and I’ve a weakness for the fruit-mince variety.

It’s important to remember that negotiations never need to be all about one thing. You go in all focused on the sales price, and forget that there are warranties and service plans and seat covers to be thrown in.

Yes – that sounds unsexy (who really wants seat covers?) – but it’s a principle thing.

So let me go back to the salary negotiation table.

Sure, it may seem like the salary is the only thing on the table. But here’s where I think most people go wrong: they’re offering the exact same service, but they’re asking for more. Which seems like a pretty bad bargaining point to me.

Some better bargaining points:

    • “I’ve noticed that no one is doing XX. I know that you need someone to take responsibility for it. If you hired someone, you’d have to go through a whole hiring process, as well as cover a full salary. I’m not saying that I have free time – but I’d be willing to use my lunch hours and one or two nights a week on it for a while. You’d save a full-time salary, and I’d get some extra income. Thoughts?”
    • “Thanks for your increase offer. Can we see if we can structure that in a more tax efficient manner? That way, I’d get more, and you wouldn’t have to pay more.”


Who knew that “being nice” could work so well?

This is the province of kindly old ladies with a will of steel.

It sounds like this:

“Thanks so much for your increase offer, my dear. I know how hard you tried to get that for me, given how tough a time our company has been having. But I can’t possibly do it. My health and the cost of fuel are not doing us any favours. I just can’t survive on less than what I asked. But thank you again. You know – let me go back to my husband and see what he says. Can I talk with you tomorrow? I’m so sorry to be like this. It’s all so very stressful.”

And after a night of guilt, the offer usually ups itself.

But you have to be pretty sure about yourself here. Especially if the offer is a lowball one just to get you out.

The Vice

We’re verging into the “nothing ventured, nothing gained” realm. Which can be a bit courageous.

But the line is: “You’ll have to do better than that”

Ultimately, this is an opening line, designed not to reveal your opening number. After all, the minute you throw a number into the conversation, the upper limit is defined.

And the upper limit is tricky: if you go too high, you get laughed out as being a chancer; if you go too low, then you’ll be seen as desperate. So it’s sometimes best to try and keep your number off the table for as long as possible.

Although you should always have the number in mind.


The trouble with winning a negotiation by design is that your boss/opponent tends to leave with the feeling that they gave away more than they intended. And they’re not sure how it happened.

You might have won this time. But there will be things that you can’t negotiate that will be affected. Like recommendations for promotion, and your general reputation.

Sometimes, just laying your cards out can get you an acceptable solution.

But here’s the trouble with that: it means that you have to be strong enough to take action when your transparency gets manipulated against you. That is: strong enough to walk away. Which is not always so easy.

As a final aside, I’d avoid the “take it or leave it” approach. It’s the negotiating tactic of only two groups of people:

  1. The Amateurs – who are about to be left.
  2. The Powerful – who don’t really care either way.

Unless you’re in group 2 (when you’re the only person who can do the job and you already have two other job offers in the bag), best to avoid.