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As a small-business owner, I want to empower my employees to negotiate better…with me.I care for my team and I want them to feel valued. I also recognize that if my employees believe they are treated fairly, they will be more engaged. If they know I am listening to their wants, needs and concerns, they are more likely to listen to my wants, needs and concerns, which translate to my vision for the company.I’m not alone.According to a recent Oxford University study, happy workers are 13% more productive — and they’re more likely to stick around.So, yes, I want to have conversations about benefits and pay with my employees. Moreover, I want them to feel empowered to start the chat. But I also want these talks to be participatory, pleasant affairs — not heart-pounding encounters we all just want to get out of alive.It’s not impossible. Here are my five successful strategies…Related: 3 Golden Rules of NegotiatingSet a dateFor most employees, conversations about salary and benefits feel weird and awkward. Even the prospect induces dread. I’m sure that dread is one reason why a Randstad US survey found 57% of women and 51% of men have never negotiated their pay. Help workers over the initial fear by getting a meeting on the calendar. Let them know how the discussion fits into the process of determining their salary and benefits. Emphasize that this is not the meeting. Rather it’s the beginning of a dialogue about their role in the company’s success over the next year.Provide a list of questions you’d like to discuss By answering a few simple questions, you focus your team members and yourself. Some queries I ask: What role do you want to have with the firm and are there new responsibilities you’d like to take on? How can I help you be successful, such as by supporting you in learning a new skill or clearing roadblocks? And what information do you want me to consider in our discussion about your compensation and benefits next year?Related: How to Negotiate More Effectively in the Current Home MarketHave them gather facts and figures Spell out the research they should conduct before your meeting. For salary discussions, I ask employees to bring industry comps and other information to help evaluate if they are being paid correctly. Similarly I make sure to know as much about our industry, company and comp plan as my team members know about their specific job titles. I share my sources with my team so they know what I am referencing. All this work helps us get on the same page about salary expectations. At the same time, the conversation can clarify discussions beyond pay. If an employee is currently a trader but hopes to move into the role of portfolio analyst, I know that going into the discussion.Model clarity Encourage your team members to be very clear with what they are asking for and why it’s important to them. If they want more flexible work hours, for example, ask them to come with a solid case. On your end, you need to be clear with your response. If you do allow more flexibility, set expectations for deadlines, accountability and communication. Be clear with yourself and your employee about how approving flexible hours will affect others in the company. Will you need to offer the same benefit to everyone in the office?Alternatively, if you deny the request, be clear as to why. For example: I require that some job functions happen in our office, where I know my team has a high-functioning IT network. Certain activities, like portfolio trades or live events, are too high-risk to perform from a location with questionable connectivity. So, yes, someone can work from home due to COVID but, no, they cannot spend the next six months at a beach hotel in the Bahamas. When your team understands why you are able — or not able -— to say “yes”, it helps them figure out what they can ask for next time. And it helps them construct that future ask in a way that benefits both them and the company.Know “no” is just the beginning Prepare yourself for pushback. Employees who feel heard and respected in a negotiation are likely to keep pushing for a resolution that satisfies you both. Are you ready to change your answer? And what do you need in return for a yes? Don’t worry about taking time to mull over your final decision. Your employee will appreciate your willingness to think the options through more extensively.Related: In Order to Negotiate Better, I Had to Unlearn ‘L.A. Law’Empowering my employees to succeed in these tough conversations has not only helped reduce my turnover, but also produced additional benefits. We’ve all sharpened our negotiation skills, my team feels valued and valuable, and I don’t wonder if folks are happy and likely to stay or silently disgruntled and looking for another opportunity. My business is better for the negotiation toolkit I share with my employees, and yours can be, as well.Brennan Financial Services / 8201 Preston Road, Suite 400, Dallas TX 75225 / (972) 980-7526 Securities and advisory services offered through FSC Securities Corporation (FSC), member FINRA/SIPC, and financial planning services through DBT Wealth Consultants. FSC is separately owned and other entities and/or marketing names, products or services referenced here are independent of FSC.