How negotiating salary can build relationships with employees

A case study in changing hiring practices

Posted: 19/11/2022

Read Time/Watch Time

8 minutes

Who should read this?

employers, managers, recruiters


Melanie Barham, DVM, MBA, PMP

How can you turn negotiating into a positive scenario?

You’ve likely had some experience with negotiating as an employer, and I bet you remember the negative ones with a lot of emotion really clearly. Or maybe a great employee quit sometime after a quiet negotiation where they accepted your offer, leaving you wondering, “why didn’t they ask for what they wanted?”

Employees also remember the negative negotiations as well. A market research survey completed by VSGD indicated that more than 80% of people in the vet industry would prefer to leave a job than negotiate.

Yikes, that is NOT good news for employers in this market.

Negotiation around salary is an incredibly sensitive topic, mainly because in western cultures, our value is often measured in dollars. Salary and compensation can be equated to how much an employee feels appreciated, seen, and valued within the workplace. The same can feel true for employers. We’re all human, and we can often feel complex emotions around people asking for money from us, or asking for it from other people. When contemplating quitting, employees often speak about a galvanizing moment in negotiations where they felt undervalued and it caused them to look elsewhere for a job.

At the same time, you have a business to run, and need to ensure you can pay your own bills. Most of us also did not go to school to learn to negotiate!

How can you turn negotiating into a positive scenario, keep your bottom line in the black, and not pull your hair out?

1. Encourage employees to ask for what they want

This may run against everything you’ve been taught about negotiating, but hear me out. I’ve coached hundreds of people to ask for what they want, and the thing is, people almost always wait too long before asking. By the time they ask, emotions and stakes are high. Why? Most of us were taught that if we keep our heads down and do good work, someone will reward us. This works in school, and in a lot of areas. But not in the workplace for the most part. You, as an employer, are also not a mind reader and you can’t know exactly what motivates your employee, and what they need right now to feel valued. Asking regularly is a starting point. If the answers aren’t forthcoming, take a look at the level of psychological safety in your relationship with the employee and in the workplace. 

2. Encourage frequent conversations, NOT just an annual review

Try to create opportunities for employees to speak with you regularly with small asks, and where you can provide feedback. These smaller meetings put currency in the trust and psychological safety bank account, and allow you to encourage asking for things as they occur. If you’ve never done this before, it might feel awkward. Try grabbing a coffee and bringing a notepad, or as ka few open ended questions about how things are going at work. I’d recommend quarterly as a starting point.

3. Check your bias and your emotions

Even as someone who encourages my team to ask me for what they want, I still sometimes get hit in the eyes with my own emotions. We all have different “upbringings” both professionally and personally, and ideas of what’s ok or not ok. I’ll often give people a list of behaviours and get them to sort them into appropriate for negotiation, and inappropriate. The list is NEVER EVER the same for two people. If an ask comes to you and seems impertinent, ungrateful, or any other negative word, take some time. What’s at the heart of this feeling for you? Can you explore why the employee may feel this is the right thing to ask for with some open ended questions? Remember that the employee in 99% of cases has screwed up their courage to come ask for something from you, even if their delivery wasn’t perfect.

4. Provide data, rationale, a plan

Once you’ve explored where the employee is coming from, what their motivations are, and what means the most to them in the ask, determine what you CAN do. Providing concrete data and timelines together with a no is a lot better than a vague reason that may leave the employee wondering if they are seen and valued. See if you can make a plan to move to their goal together. Building forward together helps both parties work on a solution and maintain the relationship.

5. Connect authentically

It can be very humanizing to hear an employer admit, “I am feeling a bit caught off guard; can I take a second?” or “I really value you, and I want to learn more about what you’re asking me so I can help as much as I can.” Name your emotion to the employee, your intention, and ask for what you need. Maybe that’s a few days to look into whether you can grant their request. Maybe it’s a moment to grab a cup of coffee because you’re feeling flustered, but you value them and it’s your intention to hear them out. It’s ok to feel things, and it’s ok to share that with your employee so they aren’t left guessing (and likely misinterpreting). Remember that no one knows your intentions or how you’re feeling, they just see and interpret what you say, do, and your non-verbal cues. Those can so easily be mis-interpreted; don’t let that happen on such an important topic.


Do you need help with developing a plan to encourage your staff to ask for what they want, need, and what it will take to keep them, while managing your budget? We can help.

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