Negotiating Career Matters

By: Marti Benjamin, MBA

Certified Career Management Coach

Certified Professional Résumé Writer

“Champion for a great work-life!”

The best negotiating advice I’ve ever heard came from a real estate broker who was listing my home for sale. He described his business philosophy as, “Tough on the issues and soft on the people.” This strategy had obviously worked well for him; he was financially successful and enjoyed a strong referral-based business.

A “tough-on-the-issue, tough-on-the-people” stand has been the conventional wisdom for negotiating career matters, asserting yourself to get what you deserve. This stance has harmed relationships and intensified conflict unnecessarily.

The soft-on-the-people strategy, when combined with a firm stand on issues, builds the crucial relationships that make a career rewarding, both financially and personally. A true win-win outcome occurs when the issue is resolved and the relationship enhanced. In most career matters, you’ll be working with the other party if you successfully negotiate an agreement so the relationship must be an important consideration.

Tough on the issues

Before negotiating, understand what you really want to achieve, in both the short- and long-term. State your desired outcome specifically—the amount of money, time, responsibility, benefits—so you can measure an offer against your objective standard. If you’re negotiating a salary, know what compensation is fair and justifiable in light of the value you contribute, the market rate for similar positions and the manager’s expectations. If you’re negotiating your role in a project, describe the specific level of responsibility and accountability you want.

Determine your walk-away point. Prior to negotiations, clarify what constitutes an unacceptable offer, one that’s not worth your consideration. This is the point at which you are no better or worse off than if the negotiation had never taken place. It’s your best alternative to a negotiated agreement, your BATNA as it’s called in some business circles.

Soft on the people

If you assume that the other party is a good person, trying his or her best for the company or entity represented, you can reduce the feeling of conflict in negotiations. Start with the assumption that the person across the table has a business problem that requires a resolution. Your discussion could help both of you obtain something you want or need by collaborating to find a mutually agreeable solution.

Being soft on people requires courteous and respectful speech, listening astutely, withholding personal judgment and being thoughtful about options. If you can understand the situation from the other party’s perspective, you might develop options you haven’t previously considered.

How it sounds

Here’s an example of a tough-on-issues, soft-on-people negotiating statement.

“I appreciate your offer; I know that you’ve considered your company’s needs thoroughly. I respect your position, and I need to do better on compensation in order to join this company. Could we review the bonus structure to see if there’s some room for a larger payout for exceptional performance? You can expect me to perform at a high level. How could I share in the additional revenue I generate for the company?”

This negotiator stood firm, at the same time, demonstrating that he or she understood the other party’s position. The tone was set for a respectful discussion of options without threatening the relationship.

Be curious

One of my favorite coaching mantras is, “Get curious, not furious.” Plan your negotiating strategy to learn about the other party, achieve your goal and build a stronger relationship at the same time.


Marti Benjamin inspires great work-lives in her career and business coaching practice. While enjoying the best possible job in the world for herself, she guides her clients to find the work that fits them perfectly. Her systems have led clients from fed-up and frustrated to fulfilled in their work-life.,


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