The educator’s guide to negotiating like a pro - get the raise, conditions and room that you want
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The educator’s guide to negotiating like a pro – get the raise, conditions and room that you want

by Freya Lucas

March 21, 2022

Early childhood educators and early childhood teachers (ECTs) have never been more in demand. The workforce shortage in the early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector is well publicised, and as more and more educators “vote with their feet” the ones that remain become increasingly valuable to employers. 


As a highly feminised profession (more than 90 per cent of ECEC employees are female) and as a “young” profession with a median age of 28 years for male workers and 34 years for female workers the skills and art of successful negotiation may be unfamiliar to many. 


The broad skills of negotiation – being prepared, tempering emotion and looking for win/win solutions, however, are core parts of every educator’s day, be it discussions with parents about matters of policy and safety, or interactions with children who need support to manage their big feelings or to enter and exit play. 


Building on these skills, and transferring them to self advocacy when it comes to seeking above award wage rates, preferred placements within the service or specific conditions such as rostered days off or additional programming time is an important consideration for educators and ECTs operating in a “talent short” market. 


The five tips below are drawn from Yale Professor Barry Nalebuff, author of negotiation text Split the Pie: A Radical New Way to Negotiate, and offer perspective on how to shift negotiations in ways that may defuse tension, align goals, and give you more of an advantage.


Be curious, not defensive 


Nadia De Ala, a leadership and negotiation coach, says when you find yourself in a situation where someone is being unreasonable, or demanding something you’re not ready to give, to pause and ask why. Questions to help you get greater insight include “can you tell me more about that?” or “Is that a regulation, a policy, or your perspective?”


Open-ended questions (those that require a chain of words to answer, rather than just “yes” or “no” can also help. 


“I’d like to be paid $2 more an hour. Is that something you can do?” is a closed question. 

“How much scope is there for you to increase my hourly rate?” is an open question, and one that implies raising your rate is a forgone conclusion – you now just need to know by how much. 

Address the elephant in the room 


Negotiations can be tense, with each person feeling like they will either come out as the winner or the loser. One way to diffuse this is to take ownership of the tension, and name it. 


“I know these conversations aren’t always easy” or “It can be stressful approaching these chats can’t it?” opens up the door to safety, and to making it “the two of you versus the issue” rather than me versus you.

Being upfront about the goal of the conversation – to determine room placements for next year, to seek a rise in pay, to change the terms and conditions of employment – can also help to ease tension. 

Bringing humor and lightness into the moment can also help – “obviously I’d love to be earning $80 an hour, but here’s what I really want” – it gives both people a chance to laugh before getting down to business, which eases the mood. 


Silence isn’t always a bad thing


Many of us are concerned about pauses in conversation, wondering if it’s a sign things are going badly, or that the other person is unhappy. In many instances, given that ECEC employers are in a caring profession with a goal of ensuring harmony and growth in the space, they will rush in to soothe or make the situation better with an apology, or by backing down. 


Andres Lares, Managing Partner at Shapiro Negotiations Institute and author of Persuade: The 4-Step Process to Influence People and Decisions, says silence isn’t always a bad thing. 

Letting the silence sit, and waiting for the other person to speak and share their thoughts, can not only give them time to consider your point of view, but is also more likely to result in them moving to fill the silence with something which will work for you. 

A tip for those who find silence uncomfortable is to make notes during the conversation, and use the silent time to review them. 


Stay calm 


Sometimes negotiations can become heated – one party may feel defensive while the other feels unheard. It can be hard to “get to yes”. Taking a break and pausing to reflect, asking to pick things up later gives both sides a chance to cool down. 


In those moments it’s useful to circle back to the one or two points you both agreed on as goals for the negotiation when it began. Using that as a filter means there is less opportunity for going “off track” and raising other issues. 


Know when to walk away


Every negotiation has a “deal breaker” – a point at which one party will be unable to compromise, and an exit is the only solution. Without a “deal breaker” point being clear in your mind on entering the conversation, you’re giving up one of your most valuable negotiation tools. 

“It’s not possible for me to continue to (miss additional programming time, work for less than…an hour, or work in the nursery.) How can we address that?” is a strong opening statement, but also leaves the question “or what?”

Are you prepared to hand in your resignation? Will you be seeking other options if your needs can’t be accommodated? Will you accept more money if it comes in the form of additional professional development options? 


Knowing your bottom line, what you will and won’t accept moving forward, and understanding your value are all core elements of negotiation.  


To learn more about negotiation please see here. Inspiration for this story was drawn from a piece by Fast Company, which may be accessed here

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