The 5 Best Times to Negotiate on the Job

When we negotiate and fail, the effects can set us back both personally and professionally. Perhaps our case was strong. Maybe we rehearsed our key messages beforehand. Perhaps we even had influential allies on board.

Still, a bigger question looms. Was the timing right?

In fact, timing a request—so that the forces of the conversation are in your favor—is relatively simple to do, but only if you have a nose for prime “asking” opportunities. Seizing on the right forces and moments to make your requests only greases the wheels in getting a “Yes” answer. To that end, below are five occasions that create especially lush negotiating conditions for the asker:

1. Right after you “knock it out of the park” on a project:

If negotiations are truly all about leverage—what you have that the other party wants and vice versa—then you should use important wins to your advantage. If, for example, you delighted a client, brought back a customer that defected to a competitor or got the company favorable publicity, you and your value are being talked about in the best possible way. See this as a form of currency and use it your advantage. Ask for that raise or increase in responsibility, pointing to your inventory of recent examples of creating meaningful business value.

2. When the company’s in flux:

If there’s one thing that stops negotiators cold in their tracks it’s asking for something when the future of their organization is uncertain. Add to this dynamic that women are less likely to negotiate when conditions are ambiguous. And yet, where there is flux about the future—let’s say a merger, downsizing, a shakeup—there is huge opportunity! Perhaps your request could drive an important future goal for the company, meet a pressing need or otherwise stabilize a crisis. For example, in an organization that is pushing for unprecedented productivity from employees, consider asking for that role you’ve wanted to apply for as a 50/50 “job-share” with your peer. Make the case that the organization will get more than one person’s total efforts—and productivity—in granting the request.

3. When your department or company has had an important win:

Perhaps you’re lucky enough to work in a warm—or even hot—area of your company. Even if you don’t, you can capitalize on your involvement on a shared win and time a negotiating request just afterward. Perhaps you work in HR and your company was just recognized as a “best place to work” or you’re a marketer who helped launch a campaign that put your company on the map. You can use your involvement in these high-profile group projects to make your request, being ready to show how your specific contribution mattered and added something important.

4. When you’ve gone above and beyond:

Beyond wowing your colleagues with continually great project performance, doing an important “extra” can position you uniquely well to make a request. Let’s say your boss just asked you to travel somewhere that no one else wanted to go, to work on the weekend or indulge that ridiculous 10:00 pm client request. These examples of discretionary effort underscore your loyalty, reliability and most of all, trustworthiness to your employer. Take one of my clients: folded into her request for a promotion, she cited that by competently filling in for 2 senior partners at key client meetings, she showed she’s poised for the next step and ready to be entrusted with owning client relationships.

5. After you’ve been told “No” on at least 2 other requests:

You’ve heard it before: the squeaky wheel gets the oil.  And nowhere is that more true than in business. When someone makes an important ask of us, there’s a natural pressure to appease the other side. When a person has a record of being told “No” several times however, the pressure to say “Yes” only increases. Since most people don’t enjoy rejecting a person repeatedly, you can actually use this historical information to your advantage. You might try saying, “I’ve gotten 3 ‘No’s on project pitches in the last six months. Based on ABC evidence, I really think this one is worth pursuing…”

Too often people wait for an invitation to negotiate. They may ask for more money at their performance review, a veritable desert of a time, when raises have usually been established. Decide for yourself when your own career capital is at its highest. Then act!

How have you seen someone time a negotiation successfully? How did they position the request?

This article appeared in Forbes on October 8, 2014.

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Selena Rezvani

Selena Rezvani is a recognized consultant, speaker and author on women and leadership.  A seasoned human capital consultant, Selena uses workplace culture assessments to help corporate clients be more inclusive and welcoming to women.  She’s also the author of two leadership books targeted at professional women – Pushback: How Smart Women Ask—and Stand Up—for What They Want (Jossey-Bass, 2012) and The Next Generation of Women Leaders (Praeger, 2009). Selena has been featured in the LA Times, Oprah.com, Todayshow.com, Forbes, and wrote an award-winning column on women for The Washington Post.

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