You may have recently heard that Lewis Hamilton has negotiated his next year’s salary at a whopping £27m, if the news reports are to be believed. This got me thinking about the negotiations that I sometimes see employees in. The bit that I found more interesting than the sums of money involved was that Hamilton was said to have taken a leading role in the negotiations, as opposed to relying on anyone else to conduct them for him. I have recently acted for somebody who had the confidence and the chutzpah to enter into a game of brinkmanship with his employer when negotiating a settlement, but I would class those who are able to do this successfully for themselves as being in a real minority.
All too often, when the negotiations that you are having have a huge emotional impact because our work life is so integral to who we are these days, I generally find that individuals are poor negotiators on their own behalf because of the tendency to cave in too soon and often a desire to ‘just get everything done and dusted’. That’s where having somebody who can be more objective about the situation, like a trade union representative or a lawyer, can be useful. That person can weigh up the strengths and weaknesses of the arguments that might be put on either side of the equation, assess where the bargaining power lies and take some carefully assessed risks – years of experience and having similar negotiations over and over again often gives you the confidence to push for a little bit more.
Last week I had an email which referred to a ‘final offer’ being made, but elsewhere within it invited me to take my client’s instructions with a view to perhaps making a counter offer. This told me that it wasn’t a ‘final offer’ at all but that my client needed to come back with a realistic sum, not a million miles away from the ‘final offer’. I will often say to people that we should keep pushing in a negotiation until we get the very clear signal from the other side that we have hit the buffers and that any sums being discussed are the best and final offer.
You all learn, over the years, that where the parties are close (but not meeting) there is often a willingness to not walk away from the negotiation and lose everything that has been tabled – lawyers will often suggest the parties ‘meet in the middle’.
There is no magic to any of this – it is just a question of horse-trading. Undoubtedly the individuals who are prepared to be the most ‘awkward’ in the process, who don’t just accept the first thing that is offered and who look at the whole picture, not just the headlines, are the ones who are more successful in terms of their outcomes. There are those individuals who will focus on not just, for example, the settlement payment they are being offered, but will also focus on whether or not they are receiving outplacement consultancy or a decent reference who usually obtain the best packages. This is because they look at all the different individual elements that make up the package and push on each one to get the best outcome. Where individuals aren’t inclined to do this, that’s my job.