make the entire pie bigger


I help many of my clients prepare for what’s often their least favorite business communication event: a salary negotiation. And whether it’s related to a new job offer or to an upcoming performance review, they want help because they have one main fear that all of us can relate to:

The fear of coming out on the losing end


If you’re like most people, when you hear the word negotiation, you envision yourself buying a car at a dealership and getting to that critical point at which the salesperson wants you to pay as much as possible and you want the opposite. It feels like a standoff where the negotiator with the strongest will wins. And if one side wins, it means the other side loses.


It’s natural to want to “win,” but what does that mean?


Thinking of negotiation in this way, it’s not surprising that we’d want to prepare to “win.” However, it’s that very mindset—that if we don’t get the other person to give away the farm, then we’ve clearly come out on the losing end—that causes us stress. But negotiations don’t have to represent this type of zero-sum game. In fact, it works out much better for everyone when they’re not set up that way.


I help my clients think through a number of standard negotiation prep items—like determining their BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement), researching support for their position, and anticipating objections. I can tell you, though, that the biggest game changer for most people comes when they envision a negotiation where they’re not just trying to get a bigger piece of the pie for themselves. Instead, they’re actually trying to grow the size of the overall pie and increase value for everyone.


Value = growing the size of the overall pie


If you focus on your salary negotiation as an adversarial situation where you judge the outcome solely on how much money you can put in your pocket, then it’s very much like that car dealership scenario—a zero-sum game. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with keeping more of your money, focusing exclusively on your side of that equation typically misses some opportunities. After all, you probably value things other than money, don’t you?


Don’t get me wrong—money pays for housing, school tuition, and vacations, so I’m not proposing that you neglect focusing on it. I am suggesting, though, that many of us initially define success in a salary negotiation along a single dimension: money in my pocket. We set a target salary we’d like to end up  with, and if we get it, we call it success. If we don’t, we call it failure. I think there’s a better way to approach a negotiation.


A quick case study: 2 questions


A client of mine recently experienced some a-ha moments during a coaching meeting in which we were discussing her upcoming salary negotiation. She wanted help thinking through how to argue that she should get a bigger raise than the marginal one she was told she’d get. After some discussion, she felt, on one hand, comfortable that she could make the best possible argument to support her request but, on the other, pessimistic about the chances that her company would agree to pay what she’d ask for despite her best argument.


So I posed two questions that opened up the discussion and led to some valuable insight for her:


  1. If the issue of salary were off-limits and you couldn’t talk about it in your negotiation, what would be the best possible outcome of that negotiation?
  2. What do you think your manager and the company want in this negotiation?


Yes, money. But what else do you value?


My client realized that, money aside, she’d like to have more frequent, meaningful, career-centric communications with her manager in the future. She also realized that underneath her “I want to be paid more” position lies a desire to feel more valued by her company. And while more money was one way for the company to show that they valued her, she could think of other ways too like, for example, allowing her to get experience outside the scope of her current role that would qualify her for the next role she’d really like to have.


Now she’s armed for that negotiation with much more self-awareness, and she’s much more clear on what’s important to her. And in a collaborative negotiation, as opposed to an adversarial, zero-sum game one, you want to make sure that the other party understands what you value.


Do you know what the other person wants? Ask!


But sharing what you value is only half the picture. How much do you really know about what the people you’re negotiating with value? Only when you start getting insight into what the other party values can you start growing the size of the pie.


And how can you find out what your manager and your employer value? Try asking! Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your manager and your company believe that the best way to run a business is to hire people, work them to the bone, and pay them as little as possible. Ask about what they value in employees, in leaders, and in business, and then look for creative ways to either show how you’ve already provided that type of value for them or how you could position yourself to do it.



Thinking about negotiating your salary can induce anxiety and stress—especially when you approach it as a zero-sum game where one side is just trying to make their slice of the pie bigger than the other side’s slice. But when you approach your negotiation wanting to provide value for all parties—when you look to increase the size of the overall pie—you’re much more likely to create a constructive, creative environment in which everyone wins.




Guillermo Villar is principal coach with Cambio Coaching. He helps high-achieving individuals and teams communicate with Purpose to get the business results they want.