When it comes to thinking about who the top negotiators are in your business, you’d likely go ahead and pick your sales or even account management team. After all, they spend most of their office hours wheeling and dealing and trying to negotiate with your customers. However, there is one group of folks who also spend the bulk of their day negotiating, only you aren’t as dialed into their efforts, and that is your HR team. Whether it’s negotiating benefit plans, negotiating compensation structures, or even negotiating job switches and new hire contracts, your HR person spends a good portion of their time on this important task and thus may benefit from the following tips on how to improve their skills.
Think through both sides:
Usually, when we enter a negotiation, we have a set of our own goals in mind. After all, part of the fun of negotiating is “winning” and getting your way against your opponent. However, negotiations run more smoothly when you spend a little time ahead of the debate thinking about the wants and needs of the other party and how you can help them get it. For example, if your HR rep is in a meeting trying to negotiate a new hire, they should keep what the company can provide back of mind and instead focus on what added value said worker will bring to the table and how it will transform team dynamics or even the overall company. They should anticipate what the employee will want to barter on — be it compensation, benefits packages, or other perks — and be able to demonstrate how you can meet their needs, perhaps not right off the bat, but eventually through future compensation structures or promotion timelines and career ladders.
Be prepared to reframe:
Sometimes negotiations can get tense, particularly when neither party is willing or able to budge on a data point. Rather than let tempers flare, take some time to regroup and reframe by walking your conversation back to some common ground. In a new hire negotiation, for example, you could walk it back as far as that they are excited about the opportunity and that you believe they are the right person for the job. By sharing a common value — in this case, bringing this employee onboard — you can then start to ask open-ended questions that seek to determine why the candidate has reservations or what needs must be met in order to comfortably move forward.
Present multiple offers:
When it comes to negotiating, HR professionals would do well to take the attitude “you win some, you lose some.” Even if when you enter the negotiation you are only sure of the one thing that you want, offering a series of other options — or concessions if you will — can make the other side feel like they’re being presented with choices and thus more in control of the situation. For example, if your HR pro wants to incentivize a team to earn a bonus for completing a wieldy, much-dreaded project, they could meet with your company’s CFO and seek to offer the team either additional paid time off, a one-time bonus, or simply a percentage of the cost-savings from completing the project split between the participants. The team in question wins because they get a reward, but the CFO also feels like they won because they got to pick the prize!
Differentiate your cause:
When you work in HR, you are often the person that must advocate for others. However, in many companies, the same group of people are competing for the same resources, be it more money, additional time off, a more flexible work schedule, etc. To negotiate successfully, the HR pro should focus on how this one team or individual’s request is different from all the others. HR pros can use their unique insight to identify why the need is unique and what the company — or at least other departments — stands to gain from this one request being granted to tip the scales in their favor. For example, if you are advocating for your accounting department to get new software, you could highlight how this software will streamline the workflow of the entire department — a sure benefit for your accountants — but also reduce the risk of errors, make it easier for other departments to pull data, and even free up the time of the accountants to focus on a broader project — which will benefit your entire company.
Negotiating is, at its core, a power struggle and it can very quickly become tense and contentious if you don’t take steps to make it less of a standoff. Pros recommend that you pay attention to your body language during the conversation — if your “opponent” is seated, you should come down to their level so as to not appear as the aggressor. In addition, you should be sure that you present a relaxed posture by uncrossing your arms and even placing your hands on the table, which subconsciously sends the message that you have nothing to hide. Be sure to make eye contact with the person who is talking, but don’t stare them down, and keep your facial expressions neutral even if you are growing tense. Language-wise, you can build rapport by repeating back what the person has said to show that you have heard and open the door for clarification or emphasis