Does Making Demands Actually Work?

Photo by Alfonso Cenname

Photo by Alfonso Cenname

How gratifying would it be if negotiating for yourself was simply a matter of stomping into your manager's office, slamming down a list of demands and watching your manager fumble for words as they sheepishly acquiesce to all your demands, lest you take your invaluable services elsewhere?

"Yes, yes, whatever you want. We'll double your salary. can't leave us!"

But wait, hold up. That's a fantasy played out in movies, not in real life.

Once upon a time, when I was a naive young thing, I thought negotiating was all about hard bargaining like making demands.

And it totally backfired.

I was twenty-six. I was hired as a junior analyst at a now defunct Asian equities hedge fund, because I speak Korean, Japanese and English.

But I knew next to nothing about finance. I trusted all that would change once I enrolled in the pricey and rigorous Chartered Financial Analyst program. It cost a thousand dollars to enroll, and I took the receipt to the fund manager and demanded a tuition reimbursement.

"When I was hired, you told me that you would provide training, and this is the training I want," I channeled the courtroom lawyer my mother always hoped I would become.

It was all about me, and an unconscious desire to shame my boss into giving me what I wanted. 

"I never said I would pay for your CFA exam. No." And like that the fund manager shut down my case.   

I never took the exam. A year later, I quit. 

There's more to this story, of course, and rich lessons, like: Don't work for jerks. 

Also, don't make one-sided demands. If you do, be fully prepared to deal with the potential fallout, which in my case were turning a tenuous relationship with my boss into a contentious one and failing to get the support I wanted. 

The thing is, people don't like to hear demands, no matter how rational your argument is. Especially when it's underscored by shaming tactics. Negotiating, however, is an incremental process based on mutual trust. 

According to Stuart Diamond, famed negotiation professor at Wharton School of Business and author of Getting More, forcing the other side to do what you want them to do is a suboptimal negotiation process. 

The optimal process is incremental, invisible: 

  1. Get people to think what you want them to think 
  2. Get people to perceive what you want them to perceive 
  3. Get people to feel what you want them to feel 

Prerequisite is empathy, being able to see the "picture inside their heads" before changing their perspective so that they think, perceive and feel as you want them to. This takes strategy, listening and psychological investigation. 

As a She Negotiates consultant and coach, if I can go back in time, I would consult my younger self to not take the "me-me-me" approach of making demands. Instead, I would consult her to get really curious, not accusatory, to ask calibrated and open-ended questions, to enlist the help of allies, as well as to consider alternatives.

With my help, a recent client negotiated an increase of $13K in her compensation for an internal transfer to a bigger role by taking the incremental approach. The process took about three months, because negotiation is a series of non-linear, but focused conversations. She did a number of things well, including:

  • Enlisting the help of her mentor to champion her case for more;
  • Preparing a solid case backed with research and data, effectively doing the legwork on behalf of HR who would in turn forward the information to the key decision maker; and
  • Asking questions. A strategic question we came up with was: "Would you help me understand the how the discrepancy between higher cost of living (she would be moving to a more expensive city for the transfer) and the current offer makes sense?"

The key strategy was taking a collaborative and proactive approach, while incrementally getting the other side to think, perceive and feel that, based on factual data, the current offer on the table did not make sense. In the end, this strategy helped her get a bigger compensation package, strengthen her relationships with mentor and HR, and signal to everyone involved that she is an astute professional.

No demands necessary.