Thriving Together Series: How Negotiations Can Improve Well-Being at Work

Thriving Together Negotiations

By: Juan Class, a Mason student in the School of Business

Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.” – John F. Kennedy

Negotiations at work may seem risky and stressful. However, if approached effectively, negotiations can help all parties achieve their goals well. Successful negotiations can help both employees and employers understand their mutual needs and expectations, leading to well-being at work.

Common Dynamics in the Workplace

A common workplace dynamic involves an employee opposed to a higher level of management. This type of relationship is called a “supervisor-subordinate relationship’’, and it “can be primarily based in mentoring, friendship, or romance and includes two people, one of whom has formal authority over the other”, according to this University of Minnesota Libraries article. This relationship emphasizes a power structure dynamic, as it is necessary for subordinates involved to cooperate and comply. An example of a negotiation in this dynamic is of a lower-level employee wanting an accommodation for something they hadn’t already been promised to prior to employment. In this scenario, the supervisor or manager involved has the power to make a difference and would be solely responsible to comply with any requests if need be.

Strategy Coordination and Planning Prior to Meeting

Prior to a negotiations meeting, you must first coordinate a focused strategy to engage your audience, then set up potential alternatives in case the response turns out to be different from your goals. Having a clear understanding of the conflict is necessary, since in some cases you might be trying to negotiate for something that could have been handled differently. Be sure to understand in detail what is at stake, and what could be done in advance to improve the overall situation before speaking against a matter.

Negotiations are necessary to open a conversation to promote better understanding of the employee’s and employer’s expectations. This understanding could lead to an improved sense of belonging to the company, which benefits employers. According to this IMD Business School article, “If you make unilateral concessions in a negotiation, you will end up on the losing side”. This means that if you don’t speak up for what you want as an employee, you will miss out on some of the negotiated compensation, work, etc. This could lead you to believe that there’s a problem with compensation. It is imperative for these negotiations to go well, to prevent emotions like anger, frustration, or sadness resulting from the process and interfering with teamwork.

Emotions in Response to Negotiations

Anger and anxiety can make a good negotiation fall apart. According to this Harvard Business Review article by Alison Brooks, anger triggers our natural instinct to fight, while anxiety produces the urge to leave the situation, and these emotions can be disastrous to both negotiations and mental health. Brooks has conducted numerous studies on these two emotions, and found that anger often caused deals to completely fail without any agreement reached, while anxiety led subjects to make deals that were on average less financially beneficial than those who were not experiencing anxiety. In order to secure better deals, you need to learn how to control these emotions. Brooks says that novice negotiators tend to view negotiations as a direct battle against an opposing party, while those more experienced in the subject matter know that deals are more of a collaborative effort. When you reframe the perspective to remove the perceived competition, anger is much less likely to occur. The best way to reduce anxiety from tense situations like negotiating is to practice and rehearse until you are confident in how you will perform.

Leverage Between Parties

In short, leverage is the power that one side in a negotiation has to influence the other side to move closer to a desired position.  Often the party with leverage is your employer, due to their control over your salary and benefits. That being said, as you grow and learn specialized skills within your area of expertise, you begin to gain leverage over your employer. If you were to create a new filing system or methodology for your department, you now have leverage because the company cannot afford to lose you. You can use these highly specialized skills to negotiate your employment package to receive better compensation or a reduced workload. It is important to remember that leverage is not an absolute power to get everything you want out of a contract. However, leverage will certainly help influence the outcome to be more favorable to you. 

Expressing Compensation for a Better Environment

When negotiating your employment package, it is important to take your well-being into account. Compensation from a job not only includes the straight pay, but also elements such as health care, vacation days, mental and physical health services, flexibility, and so on. One job may offer less financial compensation yet be more valuable due to the vast array of supplementary services and benefits at your disposal. In this MSNBC article, Columbia Law School professor Alexandra Carter expresses the growing importance of mental health services during the ongoing pandemic. She notes that these supplementary services directly contribute to an employee’s satisfaction with their employers, and leads to less burnout, more productivity, and more general happiness.

Negotiations and Future Trajectory

Negotiation skills also have an impact on the trajectory of your future career. Waiting passively for an employer to recognize your potential for a promotion will delay your growth as a professional. You can avoid this by taking initiative to meet with your manager to highlight your strengths and drive to grow within the company. An employee with motivation and drive to improve will stand out and make themselves a top contender for any promotion in their department. Similarly, if your organization is refusing to notice your potential, don’t be afraid to negotiate with other companies. Sometimes the best paths to success come from changing employers, especially if your goal is to increase your total compensation received.

Additional Resources

Learn more tactics for successful business negotiations in this Forbes.com article and this Forbes.com article.

This New York Times article emphasizes the importance of giving in negotiations.

Take this Greater Good Science Center quiz on happiness at work to see what you may want to negotiate for to improve your well-being at work.

Write one of these Thriving Together Series features! We’re looking for contributions on all topics related to well-being. Read other Thriving Together Series articles here and contact us at cwb@gmu.edu for guidelines. Thank you for helping our Mason community thrive together online!