Negotiating at work means communicating with your boss or co-workers to ask for what you want. It also means working together as a team to resolve conflict.
Conflict can happen when two people want something different from the same situation. For example, you might want to be paid more, but your boss might say the business can’t afford it right now.
Conflict is a natural part of life. Resolving conflict does not have to be tense or difficult. It just requires openness and a willingness to work together to find a solution.
There are three ways a negotiation can end:
- win-win – you find a solution that both parties like
- compromise – you both have to give something up to reach an agreement
- win-lose – only one party likes the solution.
Sometimes it’s better to walk away from a negotiation rather than accepting an outcome you’re not happy with. For example, if you can’t come to an agreement about your pay, it might be time to think about quitting your job.
When to negotiate
You’ve probably already negotiated for something at work without even realising it. For example, you might have asked your boss for a day off, and in return agreed to do someone else’s shift to make up for it.
Most negotiations at work will take place between you and your boss. Here are some examples:
- you want a pay rise at work
- you want to change your shifts or rostered day off
- you want to quit your job immediately.
Preparing to negotiate
If you need to negotiate with your boss or co-worker, before you approach them think about:
- what you want from the situation – be firm about what you want, and stick to it even if you’re under pressure
- any compromises you’re prepared to make – these can be things that aren’t very important to you, but that might be important to the other person
- the other person’s situation, and what their likely response is – be ready with some follow-up questions to find out where they are coming from.
How to negotiate
Here are tips for negotiating.
You’re much more likely to get the outcome you want if you’re friendly, relaxed and easy to deal with. Approach your boss or co-worker with a smile and some light-hearted small talk. Let them think the discussion is not that big a deal for you (even if it is). You want to put them in a positive frame of mind so they’re open to considering your request.
Be polite, even respectful. Don’t get emotional or take anything personally. Stick to the issue.
Pay attention to what they tell you. Show you understand where they’re coming from by paraphrasing what they’ve just told you. For example, you could tell them, ‘it seems like … is very important to you’.
Let them explain themselves. Keep prompting them to continue. Ask open-ended questions. These are questions that can’t be answered with ‘yes’ or ‘no’. They often begin with ‘how’ or ‘what’.
You’ll be surprised what you can find out about the situation just by listening. You can use this information when you’re coming up with reasons for your boss or co-worker to give you what you want.
Being assertive means knowing what you want, and being confident about asking for it. It doesn’t mean being aggressive.
It also means politely and persistently sticking to what you want. Keep asking questions and exploring the reasons why you should get what you’re asking for.
Take your time
Good negotiation takes time. Don’t be in a rush to get what you want right away. It might take two or three discussions before you can reach an agreement. Just keep politely and respectfully bringing up the topic.
Be prepared to leave the negotiation
Sometimes people can’t reach an agreement. When this happens, it might be better to leave the negotiation rather than accept a bad deal. For example, you may need to be prepared to accept you won’t get what you ask for.
Here are some of the times when you might need to negotiate pay.
When you’re offered a job
When you’re first offered a job, you might need to negotiate your pay. It helps to know what you’re worth – research your minimum wage. If you already have a job, you can also tell your boss what you’re being paid there.
Have a salary, or pay, in mind, and stick to it as closely as you can. Sometimes, though, your boss can’t give you what you want. If pay is really important to you, you can always turn down the job and look for another one.
When you ask for a pay rise
If you’ve been in your job for a while (a year or more) and your pay hasn’t gone up, you have the right to ask for a pay rise.
Prepare for this discussion like any other negotiation. Know what you want to ask for, and why you think you deserve it. This could be because you’re:
- working lots of overtime
- doing work that's outside your job description
- successfully managing an important project
- legally entitled to a yearly pay rise.
Getting non-monetary opportunities
It’s easy to get caught up on money. But always remember there are non-monetary things that your boss can offer you, or that you can ask for. This might be time off for study or a holiday, training, or more interesting work. Before you meet with your boss, think about what non-monetary things you might ask for. And then use your negotiation skills to come up with a solution that might be a win-win for both you and your boss.
For more information about your rights at work, read our What are your rights at work? page. You can also contact:
JobWatch is a statewide community legal centre specialising in issues for workers in Victoria, and offering free and confidential advice.
The Fair Work Ombudsman gives advice and helps you understand your workplace rights and responsibilities.