Other than Silicon Valley circle-jerk jargon and my complete laundry list of toxicity in Corporate America, nothing is more disheartening to me than the word leverage and how self-anointed negotiation experts advise its use.
I can't be the only one that doesn't feel good saying the word. Leverage doesn't elicit pleasant emotions, especially when developing long-term relationships.
The optimist calls leverage influence. The pessimist calls leverage manipulation. I call leverage a mistake when used against another person.
Leverage takes a lifetime to build and seconds to lose. Here's how.
Me Win. You Lose.
Negotiation is not about me winning and you losing or vice versa. And despite the acrimonious nihilism of others, negotiation success is not when all parties feel equally screwed.
Feeling screwed isn't a great way to start a relationship.
Executives that are perceived to win too big in their negotiation may face unrealistic performance expectations as retaliation.
Employers that get away with under-compensating their talent may have trouble retaining staff as other companies pick them off with bigger checks.
Consider also the most common and accepted red flag that indicates a win/lose scenario is in play...
Give Me Your Number.
To avoid conflict, you give in. You share a range and lose all credibility and leverage (and sometimes six and seven figures in compensation) in seconds.
Now let's talk about how sharing salary expectations creates a winning scenario for you.
No, providing a range to stop unnecessary back-and-forths to save your time from a low-ball offer is not a valid reason. I'm talking about legit opportunities that pique your interest.
The salary expectation question only serves the employer. The employer leverages their strength in salary wagering against you. When you show your hand, you limit yourself. Simple as that.
Now picture that you accept an offer with a healthy compromise—splitting the difference in the heart of your salary range… only to discover new information later from a friend who got 25% more than you for a similar role. How do you feel now?
While pushing back on the salary expectation question is often an uncomfortable conflict, especially early in the discussion, deferring is necessary to jostle for a win-win negotiation.
Caving to the pressure and avoiding the conflict only multiplies the conflict later. Plus, weak negotiation is a strong indication that you may not be up for the realities of being an executive anyway.
Sorry, not sorry.
Me Win. You Win. We Win.
While I galavant through the world in magical fairytale Christmas land, I balance a three-quarter-full glass and give people the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise.
Everyone is probably doing the best they can and is not inherently out to get you.
Jacob, stupid, you're overthinking it! The employer wants to know if pursuing you is worth their time—and you voluntarily giving up salary expectations is you doing the same with your time. It's not malevolent.
And sure, this approach is fine. It's easy. It's comfortable. It's average.
I advocate for the win-win in a negotiation because everyone loses if you flat-out lose–or find out you lost the negotiation later. Being under-compensated can infect your mind, deteriorate your work, and burn you out. Lose-lose!
So it's not fine. Leverage used against people is wrong, especially when you feel the effects—even if it's not malicious.
Battle Your Instincts.
If win-lose negotiations aren't okay, then why are they prevalent and repeated to no end?
1) People hate conflict.
2) It's the way it's always been.
3) People are pushovers.
4) Obnoxiously assertive executives rule the roost.
5) People don't know how to inherently position themselves as the only solution to a problem, so their competition will eat their lunch if they don't align with the status quo.
But mostly, creating a win-win negotiation is hard work.
It requires intentional information gathering and calculated questioning while juggling emotions, external pressures, financial urgencies, and dozens of other factors.
Win-win negotiation is also subjective. If you approach a negotiation with a scientific hard-ball framework or best practices from a low-resolution LinkedIn influencer, you're gonna have a bad time.
Leverage Time To Leverage Trust
When faced with a clear-cut sign of a win-lose, it's time to slow down negotiations. The majority of your conversations are about deference until an offer.
Yes, this often happens at the first screening call in the interview process—because the interview process IS the negotiation process.
When you slow the process, you reduce your urgency and signal to the company that you're not desperate to settle for any 'ol opportunity that comes your way. Forbearance increases your appeal.
So the answer to "what are your salary requirements" is something like this: "Before committing to salary expectations, I need to know more about the role and the challenges. I don't have any concerns about receiving a competitive offer if we find a great fit. Do you?"
You need to take your time to build rapport and trust with the hiring manager, the organization, the opportunity and responsibility, the board of directors, and other factors within your influence.
You know the end game is to agree on working together and making good coin (or winning in the non-comp arenas), but remember, the negotiation isn't about you vs. them.
Leverage time to collect more information and, more importantly, to build trust and influence with your future team.
Ask open-ended and forward-thinking questions to build trust:
- How will we accomplish 'X' in the next six months?
- When we solve 'X' problem, what is the next challenge?
- What is the secret to influencing and winning over this team?
- Do you think I have the skills necessary to help this team win?
- What concerns you about my experience?
When you leverage time to build trust, you align with the challenge ahead, position yourself as the only option moving forward, and inspire advocates that will move mountains to bring you onto the team.
The only thing left is for them to make you an offer that makes accepting a no-brainer.