Negotiating a Work Situation That Meets Your Needs

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Q. I recently had my second child and would like to work from home one day a week. But my boss is adamantly opposed to the idea -- she claims that if she allows me to telecommute, "everybody would want it." The company's policy is to leave it to the discretion of the manager. Is there anything I can do to change her mind?

A: Some of the most successful negotiations have started with a firm no, says Dr. Kolb: "Sometimes people just aren't ready to deal with you, so they stonewall."

While some career coaches might suggest writing up a formal proposal outlining the benefits telecommuting would bring to the business and how the arrangement would work, Dr. Kolb says don't bother. "When someone isn't ready to sit down with you and talk business, there's no point in drafting a proposal," she says. "Your boss will just look at it and reject it. You have to get her ready to talk to you first."

The best way to do that is to remind your boss of your value to her and the office. "People negotiate only when they perceive it's in their best interest to do so," Dr. Kolb says. "They must see that they need you." Sometimes, all that's required are small, subtle actions, such as forwarding a note you received from a customer praising your work. Dr. Kolb tells the story of one news producer who jump-started her campaign for a raise simply by having her boss attend a meeting in which she knew her coworkers would be asking her lots of questions. Her manager immediately saw how pivotal she was to the organization, she says, and the woman got the raise.

If your boss still refuses? "Step up the pressure so she understands that if she does nothing, you'll be unhappy and might leave the company," Dr. Kolb says. Rather than threatening to quit, which your boss could see as an idle threat, you can send her a strong message by having allies -- colleagues whom your boss respects -- champion your cause. Not only can they persuade the other person to hear your pitch, but they can also convincingly spell out the risks involved in ignoring you. "If a trusted colleague says, 'Hey, I really think we might lose Susan over this, and wouldn't that be terrible?,' most managers will sit up and pay attention," says Dr. Kolb.

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