Negotiating for Yourself

April 29, 2020


The ability to negotiate is a skill. Like all good skills, it can be developed.

It helps if you have emotional intelligence 

Emotional intelligence is  a term used to describe both self- and social awareness, and the ability to manage yourself and your relationships. It’s often referred to as EQ, or as EI. Whether or not you go about your day consciously incorporating EQ in your communications, it likely has a significant impact on your career success.

Being able to self-advocate means you’re able to represent your views and interests. If you’re skilled at self-advocacy, then you’re able to speak up for what’s important to you – and to do so with emotional intelligence. With a positive outlook and an orientation toward achievement, you’re likely to also bring organizational awareness and empathy to conversations in which you advocate for yourself.

Make your case relevant to your employer

Let’s say you’re wanting to participate in a course or conference. That’s great, but what you need to communicate to your principal (boss) is why it makes sense in business terms. You need to be provide context that will be relevant and justifiable to whomever will be making the decision on your proposal or request.

For example, will that conference or course position you to contribute more effectively at x, thereby freeing up more of your principal’s time to focus on y or zWould you be able to increase your productivity or efficiency? Might you propose providing return on investment (ROI) by sharing new skills or insights with colleagues?

You may hope to negotiate flexible hours, or approval to work from home on certain days or occasions. However such options might impact you, it will help you to frame the request through a business lens. How might this flexible schedule benefit your employer? How might it impact colleagues and clients? There may well be both pros and cons to such a request; anticipate and be prepared to address them. You also want to be prepared to consider a compromise, which can represent a win for all parties.

Track, be prepared to quantify accomplishments

Depending on your ask, be prepared to build your case in the context of the value you bring to the role and the impacts you have upon the organization. If you routinely track your achievements and the efficiencies/cost savings you’ve established for your business unit, you have a head start. If you can attach metrics to those efficiencies, that’s even better.

Again depending on your ask, it may be relevant to highlight commendations or other recognition that’s been extended for a project you undertook, or some other accomplishment. These can also help you articulate your value.

Be prepared to build your case in the context of the value you bring to the role, and the impacts you make upon the organization.

Do your research

Do your homework. If there’s any financial impact to your proposal or ask, you need to be paying attention to the organization’s finances as well as market and economic conditions in general. That’s good advice no matter the situation. If you want to advocate for an increase in compensation, though, consider whether the timing is suitable.

You also want to understand your market value. What kind of compensation packages are available to your peers who have similar skills, responsibilities and accountabilities?

See what information is publicly available both internally and externally, and check career postings to get a sense of norms within your sector. If you want to negotiate a raise that would lift your compensation above the norm, be sure to articulate the rationale and why your contributions merit such an increment.

If you’re looking for funding to support professional development, tie the proposed development to the value you bring to the role. It comes back to ROI for your employer – whether that’s efficiencies and production, or morale, employee engagement and corporate culture.

Out of your comfort zone?

It may help to recognize that you likely negotiate on behalf of your principal or organization daily without even blinking an eye. Reflect on a typical week in the office, and the conversations or email communications you have with respect to schedules. You routinely deal with requests for your principal’s time, whether with a single colleague, stakeholder or client, or for meetings involving a number of people. Inevitably, you also negotiate changes to committee and other meetings.

In addition to such negotiations with internal and external stakeholders, you may also negotiate with service providers and suppliers.

If you’ve hesitated to negotiate on your own behalf, remind yourself that you already possess and exercise those skills on a routine basis for other people or causes. Then, draw on the same strategies you employ for others’ benefit to also pursue your own needs and wants.

If you’re among those who find these processes daunting, remember that they reflect skills you likely deploy on a routine basis on behalf of others. Remember, too, that skills can be learned and refined. Negotiations and self-advocacy aren’t always about major issues.  If you want to up your skill level, start with some low hanging fruit – negotiations that shouldn’t be overly challenging – and keep at it.

You won’t always get what you want

… but that’s no surprise, and nor should you allow this to deter you. I’ve yet to meet anyone who always secures what they want or need. If you know someone who does, observe that person closely and take notes!

About the Author: Shelagh Donnelly educates and inspire assistants on topics ranging from meetings and minutes to business acumen, cybersecurity and working with boards. She helps assistants nurture their adaptability, productivity and resilience in order to enjoy the career and continue to add value even as roles evolve. An international speaker, Shelagh worked with C-level executives for more than 25 years and is recognized for her governance expertise. Shelagh founded her globally read Exceptional EA website in 2013, and is the author of the upcoming book, The Resilient Assistant.

This article first appeared in Exceptional EA, a globally respected professional development resource for administrative professionals. Visit to find out more and tell her we sent you.

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