Negotiating Your Value

As women, many of us have no trouble advocating for others. Why then, do so many of us have such a hard time when it comes to advocating for ourselves? And why is this particularly true when it comes to negotiating our value? When I ask the women whom I coach why they are so afraid of asking for a better salary or greater compensation, they generally respond with something along the lines of the following:

  • “I do not know what to say or how to broach the topic.”
  • “I am afraid that the firm will be upset with me for asking.”
  • “I make good money; I do not want to seem greedy asking for more.”
  • “Shouldn’t I just be grateful that I have a good-paying job?”
  • “What if they fire me for demanding more?”
  • “What if they say ‘no’? What do I do then?”

These are all valid questions and concerns. Underlying all of these questions is one thing: fear. Oftentimes, that fear can become so big, and seem so insurmountable, that it keeps us from ever opening our mouths. This blog post is intended to help you set aside that fear by giving you a roadmap to negotiate your value and advocate for yourself.

            You may have noticed that I use the phrase “negotiate your value,” rather than “negotiate your salary” or “compensation.” This is intentional. It is important to start reframing the concept of salary and compensation from: “This is what I get paid to do this job,” to “This is the value I bring to this organization.” Your salary and compensation are simply a reflection of that value (or, at least, they should be).

            While we may tend to think that the only time to negotiate a higher salary, better compensation, or additional benefits is when we are considering a position with a new employer, there are actually multiple times during our careers where we may be in a position to do so. Such times may include, for example: when we take on a new position with our current employer; when significant additional duties are added to our plate; when we hit certain client development targets or other benchmarks; when we have accomplished significant goals in our professional careers; or when we discover, for whatever reason, that we have been underpaid in our current position. Whatever – and whenever – the reason, it is never too late to negotiate your value.

            One of the tactics I have found to be most successful in negotiating your value is to arm yourself with facts and data that demonstrate the value you bring to your firm or organization. For example, it is more persuasive to say to a potential employer: “I do not believe the proffered salary is reflective of my value because it does not reflect my 10+ years’ experience in the market you are trying to enter,” versus “I do not believe the proffered salary is high enough.” As another example, it is more persuasive to say to a current employer: “I was originally hired to do X. Now that I am doing X, Y, and Z, I believe my salary should be raised to better reflect the value I am now bringing to the organization.

            When thinking about data, think of all the ways in which you bring value to your firm or organization. For the ways that are quantifiable, quantify them. For those that are more intangible, find ways to describe their qualitative value. Below are some questions to prompt ideas about the value you bring, with examples of how to state that value:

  • Have additional responsibilities been added to your plate, above and beyond the position for which you were originally hired? Why were these responsibilities added? Is it because of your expertise? Your competence? The firm’s trust in you? How many responsibilities were added? By taking on these responsibilities, what work did you take off someone else’s plate?
    • I was initially hired to handle uncomplicated employment matters. Because I did such a good job, however, I was asked to handle several very complex litigation cases this past year. I achieved successful results for our client in many of those cases. The client has been so impressed that it has requested I be assigned to all new cases. I am extremely grateful for these opportunities, but believe my compensation needs to be adjusted to better reflect the value I am now bringing to the firm.
  • Have you generated new work, either from existing or new clients? Even if you do not receive “credit” for this new work, it still represents added value that you are bringing to the organization and that data can be used in negotiations.
    • Because of my hard work and diligence, I established a significant new vertical for the organization this year, which brought in $300,000 in additional revenue.
  • How many clients  or projects are you managing? For how many clients are you the sole point of contact?
    • In the last two years, I have taken over the management of five clients, which includes approximately 50 significant matters. I am the sole point of contact for these clients and they trust me explicitly. Moreover, because I have taken on the management of these cases, leadership has been able to focus on other matters.
  • Do you contribute to your firm or organization in other ways? Do you mentor younger associates or employees? Do you chair any committees? Do you represent the firm in outside organizations? Is your reputation outside of the firm or organization an asset?
    • Since I have taken over the associate development program, our turnover rate has decreased by 25%. This presents a quantifiable savings of X dollars per year. It also provides many intangible benefits, including higher morale, greater continuity for our clients, and easier recruitment in the future.

            Being armed with data is helpful for several reasons. First, as you go through the process of gathering the data, it validates your reasons for addressing the issue of your salary or compensation. This, in turn, raises your confidence level. Second, having the data in front of you tends to decrease the anxiety that comes along with broaching a topic of this nature. Third, during the conversation, the data helps you focus the discussion on facts, which helps to keep the emotion out of it.

            Speaking of emotion, so many women with whom I work are deathly afraid of becoming “emotional” during difficult conversations. Setting aside the fact that the “you’re too emotional” card tends to only be used against women, it is understandable that you would not want to distract from the purpose of your conversation by becoming upset. One of the practices I have found most helpful to combat becoming emotional is role-playing the conversation in your head before you have it. Practice how you are going to open the conversation. Rehearse your pitch. Anticipate the response and any questions that might be asked. Think of how you will respond. Visualize yourself remaining calm, cool, and collected. And practice repeatedly returning to the data if you anticipate that whomever you are meeting with will try to steer the conversation in a different direction.

            Sometimes, however, despite your best preparation, you will get emotional, upset, or – gasp! – cry. We have been taught that crying is a sign of weakness, so naturally we see this as the death knell. Whatever you do, DO NOT APOLOGIZE. Instead, flip the script. Turn it into a strength. Respond by saying something like: “My emotions reflect the passion that I bring to this job and our clients. This, along with the other facts I have presented, is why I am so valuable to this organization.” You can then return to the data and emphasize those points you believe to be most persuasive.

When it comes to negotiating your value, you want to make sure that you have a clearly defined ask. You also want to make sure you set a specific deadline for resolution to avoid the dreaded, ambiguous “We’ll get back to you after we’ve had a chance to discuss.”  For example, “I am asking for an increase of X dollars in salary. I am happy to give you time to review and consider the information I have provided. I will expect your response by X date.

And yes, while it is true that your employer could reject your request, there is an equal chance you will be successful in negotiating for more. Even if the answer is “no,” there is an intangible value in standing up for yourself. While the result may not be what you had hoped for, at least you now know where you stand. It is your choice what you do with that information. You remain in control of your career. And that is invaluable.

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