Here’s what happens in every meeting I have with investors: They ask about my divorce.

Many people ask about my divorce. Usually it’s because the person cares about me. But with the investors, there is no pretense. They just want to know if Nino is going to get a large percentage of my stock in the settlement. The risk to them is that at some point, Nino would have so much stock in my company that it wouldn’t be worth my time to continue doing the company. The investors want to make sure they don’t get involved in a situation like this.

So I assure the investors it won’t happen, but honestly, I have to work hard to make that true.

For the most part, divorce is a divide-down-the-middle thing. For an entrepreneur with a venture backed start-up, the trick is finding the middle. Because there’s no perfect way to figure out the value of the company. I try to make the company look valuable enough that I can pay off our debt and support the kids, but not so valuable that Nino thinks it’s his ticket to divorce heaven.

My lawyer, Allan, sees it as his job to put the fear of God in me: If I cash out big and it turns out I mislead people in the divorce proceeding, then Nino can come after me for everything. “Just be honest” is what Allan tells me. For $400 an hour.

I refer him to the blog post where I say that lying on one’s resume is an art form and honesty is not black and white.

He tells me that divorce law is different from career advice.

I say I think the difference is that career advice has more than a one-time use.

Allan thinks this is not true because he thinks that one day I will divorce the farmer. He says, “Your farmer has land in the middle of nowhere. If you like farmers, I have a farmer for you. He owns the land at the end of [sworn to secrecy — major road in Wisconsin]. And he just sold a bunch.”

I remind Allan about how pissed off he was when I wrote a post about the last guy he set me up with.

Allan concurs: I am a nightmare to set up on a date.

This conversation takes place on the short walk to the building to meet Nino and his lawyer.

Allan asks me how I’m feeling about custody.

This is why I like Allan. He cares about me. He is thinking of the flurry of phone calls I made to him after I read that women who make a lot of money are losing custody to their husbands who make no money.

“Where did you read that?” Allan asked.

“In the London Mail.”

Allan said, “Forget it. This is Madison. Don’t worry about it. If you want to know what to worry about, worry about the company.”

I didn’t know if I should believe Allan. I didn’t know if I should worry. I have so many mentors who help me with my start-up: almost all of them are men, and all are extremely generous with their time and ideas. But none has experience losing custody as a mom.

So I asked Nino one day, when it was our three-year-old’s birthday and I was premenstrual and I forgot half of the goodie bags, “Do you think we parent equally or do you think you do more?”

He said, “I think you do way more than I do.”

I said, “Really?” I should have recorded it or something. But instead, I cried.

He said, “Could we just have a normal birthday party? No crying?”

Okay. So, flash forward, to the meeting with our lawyers. And in our ongoing quest to be normal, Nino and I sit in the room and we try to do niceties. But niceties are difficult for me and Nino. Not because we are not nice to each other, but because we are bad with small talk. I feel an affinity to him when both of us are befuddled during lawyer small talk about the weather and the Badgers.

We get down to business. Which is the business of figuring out how much my business is worth.

Nino’s lawyer, Steve, is worried that my business is stupid and I’ll never be able to pay off our debt. He says, “So much of the business is you. What if people start saying bad things about you?”

I say, “Haven’t you been reading my blog?”

Nino says, “No. I told him not to. I thought it would be too expensive.”

Steve says, “I’ve looked at it.”

I say, “Did you like it?”

Steve smiles. Or maybe he says yes. I can’t remember. But I remember getting the distinct feeling that he would let me use his name in my blog posts even though Allan told me to never use Steve’s name.

Me: Didn’t you see the comments? People tell me I’m an idiot all the time.

Steve: Well. I didn’t see that. But I saw the letter to the editor in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Allan: I have it right here.

Me: What? What is that? A scrapbook?

Allan: Yeah. Sort of. Here is where you were covered in the New York Times. Steve, did you see this?

Steve: Oh. What is this?

Me: Let me see the letter to the editor. Oh, this is just some over-educated person from Madison whining about how her graduate degree mattered.

[I look up. The lawyers are lost in the clips. Nino is shaking his head incredulously. Then everyone looks up.]

Me: I get hundreds of comments each week saying how stupid I am.

Steven: Really? I think I don’t understand how the business works. I thought you were an authority.

Me: It’s a fine line, stupidity and authority.

Nino: [giddy at the line of questioning] Oh, do you think so?

Steven: Can you explain the company again? How do you tell investors that you are going to make money from this thing?

Me: Well, I think the way I explained it last time probably didn’t work for you. So, I have an idea. Would you like me to give you the pitch I give to investors?

Steve: Sure.

Me: Should I stand? I usually stand.

Steve: Okay.

Me: Well, I usually have a PowerPoint presentation as well.

Allan: We can imagine it.

Allan is excited that I’m going to do the pitch. He thinks our best-case scenario is if Nino and his lawyer understand the company very clearly. Allan says they’ll leave all the stock to me if they see it’s in everyone’s best interest.

So it turns out that the key to a good divorce is good communication. Hilarious. For people who are not us.

I look over at Nino. He’s never even asked me what my company does. I am secretly happy to finally tell him. I think he should be more curious.

I do the pitch. At first I sort of tone it down, but then I get rolling. I realize that I don’t need the PowerPoint. I say, “We aggregate people who blog about their careers.” Then I talk about how great the bloggers on our network are: “Super-engaged employees that employers are looking for.” I toss around some financial estimates and explain, “We encourage employers to recruit by having a conversation in the blogosphere.”

Steve says he thinks that companies don’t know what blogs are.

Steve says he doesn’t see an employee shortage in Madison law firms.

These are not good observations. I worry that I have not explained things well.

But then Nino says, “That stuff is not going to be a problem. The problem is that the PR people won’t want to let everyone talk to bloggers.”

I say, “Nino’s right. That’s the weak link in the plan. He’s so smart. That’s why I married him.”

In case you are new to the drama that is my marriage, here is the post about our first day of counseling, which now has 235 comments. And here is the post where I blame my whole marriage on the institution of shared-care parenting, and also where I find out that the population of available babysitters in Madison, Wisconsin is reading my blog, and maybe that’s why we now offer the highest paying babysitting job in town.

At this point we’ve been seeing the marriage counselor for a few months, and believe it or not, I’ve learned a thing or two about communicating. We all want to think that our communication problems at home are different from the communication problems we have at work. In fact, though, corporate training companies like VitalSmarts have shown that communication skills are the same at home and at work, just the stakes are higher at home, where getting fired is not just a new job hunt.

So in the spirit of acknowledging that work and home require the same communication skills, here is what I’ve learned so far:

1. Make sure the person you’re talking to is ready to hear what you’re saying.
One reason there are so many comments about my posts about my marriage is that men (it’s mostly men) fear the emasculation of my husband via blogging. There is, of course, little sense of irony among these men that my husband’s masculinity would be very precarious if a few blog posts could derail it.

Regardless, this post is about our marriage. So if these posts bother you, you should ask yourself why you are reading past this paragraph.

2. Instead of complaining, ask for what you want in concrete, measurable terms.
In counseling, my husband and I had the earth-shattering revelation that we are treating each other like crap. So, we each got to ask the person to do some things that would change that dynamic and help us feel better about our relationship.

My husband asked me to stop throwing things, which really pissed me off because I have thrown things twice, in fifteen years, both times at a wall, but he brings it up constantly like I have a track record for throwing daggers at his head.

Please, don’t send me emails about how even one thing thrown is traumatizing, okay? I had about ten million things thrown at me as a kid, and the police were at our house all the time, so throwing only twice, and relatively innocuously, is actually a triumph, and the result of ten years of therapy so I don’t repeat what my parents did. No kidding: Ten years.

Here’s what I asked from my husband: That he say or do one nice thing to me every day. He definitely got ripped off in this bargain. Do not write to me about how this is a metaphor for our marriage. It isn’t. In all marriages that reach a low point, both people are getting ripped off equally, or else someone would threaten to leave. And neither of us is leaving.

3. Give feedback if expectations aren’t met, even if the effort is good.
The first day comes, and he writes me a note to thank me for taking care of the kids. Here’s what it said: Thanks for taking care of the kids. Here’s where he put the note: On my Facebook wall.

I didn’t even know he had an account on Facebook. And before you go to mine, let me confess that my assistant does a lot of my Facebook stuff – which is not uncommon because many professionals are on Facebook only because of peer pressure.

My assistant sends an email to me to let me know my husband says, Thank you for taking care of the kids.

I don’t want to tell my husband that he is crazy for posting stuff like this on my wall where thousands of people see it. But after three days of Facebook-based gratitudes, I remind him that my assistant manages my Facebook page.

He says, “Oh yeah. I forgot.” Then he keeps sending stuff there. He does chocolates. Then flowers. Then plants. By now, my Facebook page looks like a greenhouse.

I count the days until we will be back in a counseling session where I can ask for something different.

4. Take responsibility to make your boundary needs clear.
Then I got an email from Ryan P: “I see on Facebook that you and Nino got married. Congratulations.”

That’s when the Facebook thing became too much. I realized it was my husband’s way of doing our marriage publicly. Mine is blogging, his is Facebooking. So I wanted to tell my assistant to unmarry us because I don’t want to be linked to him online because I’m so sick of him. But Ryan P pointed out that if I do that, everyone would think that we got unmarried, “which would be worse than announcing that you’re married.” So I had my assistant fix it to say I’m married, but not say to whom.

5. You must keep talking. That’s the only way to make progress.
The other assignment we had from the marriage counselor was to have a conversation. Yes, that’s where we stand–we must be directed to talk with each other.

It takes us a while. I have been travelling a lot which throws off everyone’s schedule.

So on Friday night we put the kids to bed and we sit down to have our conversation. We sit on the kitchen floor because it’s already freezing in Madison and our house is hard to heat, but the kitchen is always warm. We sit across from each other on our impractical-for-a-kitchen but squishy-soft pink rugs. There is a soft hum from our refrigerator. There is an orange glow from the Halloween lights my son taped across the wall.

Our conversation topic is pre-selected for emotional safety: A book my husband’s reading. James Kunstler’s The Long Emergency: Surviving the End of Oil, Climate Change, and Other Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century.

My husband refers to this book as peak-oil literature. I am shocked to hear he’s reading anything at all because he spends so much time taking care of our kids.

He knows all the scenarios about what will happen if we cannot use technology to replace oil, and he feels strongly that it’s too late to make a difference with recycling. Here are things we talk about:

  • If we cannot transport food then we all have to farm. There will probably be a feudal system because only some people own farmable land.
  • Cuba is a test case for this. When they could not get oil from the Soviet Union, everyone had to farm. It has been deemed a success by agronomists.
  • There is some point when oil gets so expensive that it’s no longer useful for maintaining infrastructure and then infrastructure collapses and oil is worth nothing.

I ask a lot of questions. I find all this fascinating, and so does he. We talk about the author’s blog, Clusterfuck Nation, and I have a moment of blog-title envy. We talk about teaching our two kids to farm. From a book. Because how else would we know? And there really aren’t books like that because historically neighbors have taught each other. Besides, we would need oil to get the books to people.

I tell my husband that I like the idea of not having any oil. It’s a much more simple life, and it’s appealing to me. “We would need to live close to people we love. We’d spend a lot of time sitting on our pink rugs talking.”

When I founded my first company I didn’t have time to find someone to date, but I knew that I wanted to get married. So I followed all the advice I had read about how you should tell people what you want in order to get what you want. I started telling everyone that I wanted to get married, and a lot of people set me up on dates.

But things did not go well. Almost every guy I went out with ended up wanting to do business with me. (Yes, I went into business with one of them.) And often when I met with an investor about the next round of funding for my company, our meeting (that was invariably at some swanky restaurant he owned) turned into a date by the end of the evening.

I started questioning the idea that I should be so frank about looking to get married. Life is one big negotiating opportunity, and I saw I was not doing well. Also, I noticed that men don’t generally ask for what they want. The classic example: They ask you out to lunch when what they really want is sex.

There is so much written about how women are not as good at negotiating as men are. Lots of studies show that women don’t even start negotiating — nine times out of ten, men will ask and women won’t. And when women do negotiate, they don’t get what they want as often as men do.

There is no solid research to tell us the why behind the poor negotiations. Most people who toss around ideas about why women don’t ask, toss around some version of the idea that women don’t like conflict: Women like to collaborate; women are caretakers.

I don’t believe this, because in a relationship, women are typically more comfortable with conflict than men are. In fact, women are more likely than men to bring up conflict in a relationship. And men are more likely to withdraw from conflict. (This last link is so fun. It’s dating tips for guys from AskMen.com – a site that is always right on target about how women think.)

Anyway, I think the reason women do poorly in negotiations is that women assume you should ask for what you want, but men know that’s not how the game is played. Men know that you need to be aware of what you want, but that’s not necessarily what you ask for.

So then it makes sense that men negotiate more than women because women are facing conflict head-on and men are not. It’s much easier to approach someone you are not going to instigate conflict with. So negotiations work best when you don’t assume you need to ask for exactly what you want.

Think of the sex example: If a guy approaches you for sex, you hang up on him. If he approaches you for lunch, you think he’s very sweet. And then later you have sex.

Salary is another situation where you are better off not asking for what you want. In salary negotiations, you always want to wait until the other person gives the number. Even though you know what you want, if you say the first number, your counterpart will tell you it is higher than he or she was planning to pay, no matter what the number is.

When someone asks how much money you want, a way to get out asking directly for the very high salary you really want is to say things like, “I want to consider the whole package not just salary” or “I want to make sure we are a good match before we talk about salary.” This forces the other person to give a number first, and then you can say you want more.

My friend Chris Yeh gave me another good example of when you should not ask for what you want: Founding a company. He said if you want advice, ask for money, and if you want money, ask for advice. For those of you who have dealt with investors, you’ll recognize that this is exactly how the world of startups works.

And based on my own experience of trying to date while running a startup, I think this might be true too: If you want to go into business with someone, ask them on a date. And if you want to date someone, go into business with them.

Your gender might matter most when it comes to negotiation — women just aren’t as good at it as men. Part of the reason for this is that women are more hesitant to ask. But to be fair, women who negotiate competitively are judged negatively, whereas men aren’t.

BATNA Thousand

Another factor that has a huge impact on your ability to negotiate is the power of your BATNA — or Best Alternative to a Negotiated Deal. William Ury, author of the negotiation bible “Getting to Yes,” says that the key to effective negotiation is learning how to read the core needs of each side. If you can estimate the BATNA of each party, then you’ll be clear on where you can push during the compromising stages.

I learned about Ury’s methods when my husband and I were in couples therapy. The therapist taught us to stop trying to change each others’ needs and to understand them instead. This is how we got better at accommodating each other in a way that didn’t crush us. And it was a great lesson in negotiating that went way beyond our marriage.

Meeting Expectations

Ury focuses on strategy — he teaches how to understand the big picture from both sides. But you also need to have some tactical plans. I learned mine from one of my former bosses. My strengths are management and coming up with ideas. One of the reasons I took a job with this guy was because I knew he had totally different skills from mine: He was a great dealmaker, especially in business meetings.

This boss gave me so much negotiating advice it could fill 50 columns. Here are seven of the most memorable tactics I learned from him:

1. Don’t attend a meeting without decision-makers.

If you can’t get the meeting organizers to tell you who’ll be making decisions about the items under discussion, tell them you’re sending an admin to the meeting in your place. When they complain, say, “Then why don’t we both send our decision-makers?”

2. Don’t take a meeting unless you know who’s attending.

If the person who scheduled the meeting won’t tell you who’s going to be there, call just before the meeting and say, “I’m calling to see if the meeting’s still on. Please give me a call.”

When my former boss did this and got a call back 10 minutes later saying that the meeting was on, he asked, “Great, who’s coming?”

3. Always have a scapegoat handy for hard questions.

This is a person who takes the first shot at an answer to tough questions.

When my boss and I went into a partnership meeting and they asked how we would handle billing to small businesses, I told them we’d do it by hand. After a half-minute of me going on, my boss came up with a more reasonable answer because I had bought him the time to think.

4. Treat your lawyer like your friend.

Of course, the company’s lawyer was my boss’s friend because he only hired his friends. But lawyers at top-tier firms are generally smart people who shunned a risky career path by going to law school and then straight into a big law firm.

Consequently, they can keep a meeting strategy in their head and help you think of the other company’s point of view. And while some people say lawyers are slow thinkers, I think this is an illusion created by hourly billing.

5. Inundate the other side with information.

When my boss and I met with venture capitalists, they fired off question after question. We began to be able to predict their questions and created bright, visual charts and diagrams to answer them.

This caused the VCs to slow down in order to look at the charts, which allowed us to finally say what we wanted to say.

6. Don’t fidget.

In the first meeting I had with my boss, he noticed that I dropped my pen eight times. A fidgeter doesn’t know she’s fidgeting because she’s too absorbed in the fidgeting.

Someone who’s relaxed and confident doesn’t look rigid, and definitely doesn’t fidget. Even if you can’t master this, at least look around the room to see who has: They’ll be the toughest negotiator.

7. Believe you’re good at negotiating.

If you think you’re bad, you’ll be bad. If you believe you’re smart and you do a lot of preparation, then there’s no reason not to think you’re good.

If you really, really don’t think you’re a good negotiator, go to work for someone like my ex-boss. When you’re surrounded by great dealmakers, some of it starts to rub off on you — that’s how it worked for me.

 

You probably know by now that while I go by the name Penelope today, it didn’t start out as my real name. It was a pen name. My editor at Time Warner gave it to me, and the first time I saw it was in a contract. It looked like a good place to start negotiating.

But when asked about writing under a different name my editor said, “When you’re Dominick Dunne you can negotiate with Time Warner.”

And herein lays the problem with most negotiations. You are in a great position if you have something to leverage, like, another person willing to give you the same type of deal. This is called your BATNA (best alternative to negotiated agreement). But in most cases, one party has an especially terrible BATNA. In the case of me and Time Warner, if I said no to them, they would have ten million people who would love to write a column for them. If they said no to me, I would not have a column.

Yet most advice about negotiating assumes you have a good BATNA. In an interview I did with William Ury, the author of my favorite negotiation book, Getting to Yes, he said that negotiation is all about knowing your BATNA and knowing the other party’s BATNA and then helping both of you to get what you want.

If you think about negotiating from this vantage point, then you can understand why job hopping is okay in today’s market: the BATNA for young people is stronger than the BATNA for hiring managers. Hiring managers are scrambling to hire young people and the young people are quitting faster than human resources can replace them. Meanwhile, the alternatives for young people are increasing – they can live at their parents’ house, they can start their own company, and they can travel. All great alternatives to getting a job at a company.

That said, sooner or later each of us finds ourselves in a situation where we have a really lousy BATNA. I find myself in this position a lot, as a writer. For example, a very large syndicate asked me to write for them. It would have meant having my column run in 400 newspapers at a time when I had about ten newspapers. I sent the contract to my lawyer, thinking he’d just take a quick look and say yes. But he told me that there was a clause that made me essentially unable to write for anyone else. Ever. We tried negotiating and they wouldn’t budge. Of course they wouldn’t. Millions of people want to write a syndicated column. So I had to say no. It was a very hard decision. In hindsight I am thankful for that lawyer, but for years after that, every time I found myself struggling, I worried that I did the wrong thing with the syndicate.

When Yahoo offered me the chance to write for them, they gave me a difficult contract. I gave it to the lawyer and the lawyer was very frank: It’s not a great contract, but it’s a great opportunity, and you should take it. So we talked about some things I could try asking for that would not be that hard for Yahoo to give on, just to be nice. I gave Yahoo a short list, they picked a few things, and I signed.

So what have I learned from all this? If one person has a great BATNA and the other has a terrible one, it’s not really negotiations; it’s trying to get a little something extra. It’s asking for a favor. If you approach negotiations from this perspective then you are much more likely to get a little bit of what you want.

Figure out where your counterpart might be willing to give a little. Even if your BATNA clearly stinks, most people you negotiate with will be willing to give a little just to create some good will for the working relationship you are establishing.

So you can read all the negotiation advice in the world, but if you have a terrible BATNA, what you really need is advice about how to ask for a favor. And, ironically, the advice for asking for a favor is the same advice for negotiating: Know what is most important and least important to both parties.

During my first job interview, my mom drove me to 31-Flavors while we practiced interview questions.

One question we did not practice was “How much money are you expecting?”

When the ice cream store owner asked, I said, “Well, my parents are cutting off my allowance for the summer so I’d like twenty dollars a week.” That seemed like a lot because I wouldn’t need money for school lunches.

Later, my mom pointed out that I gave a number so low that it would have been illegal. In the end, the owner paid me minimum wage for a 40-hour week, and because I had asked for so little at the beginning, by the time I was a doing the job of a manager I was making less than some scoopers.

So I quit, and moved to a pizza parlor where I got extra money for cutting the salami with the machine that cut peoples’ fingers. It wasn’t until later in my career that I realized there are established strategies for salary negotiations, and if you follow them, you will likely get the salary you deserve without risking the loss of a limb.

I got a lot of practice doing that in my twenties – having about ten jobs in ten years. I got a sense of who would negotiate and who wouldn’t. I learned to read people in business. And then I realized that you can use these skills for a lot more than just salary.

One of my bosses gave me the book Getting To Yes. He said the book would help me manage because every management moment actually has implied negotiations.

When I went to couples therapy with my husband, the therapist assigned us reading. (Who knew therapist assigned books?) But guess what it was? Getting to Yes.

It was a great idea. Because then instead of paying a therapist to entertain our insane ideas of changing each other. We learned how to make the other person feel happy about giving us what we want by making sure that they get something, too.

So I was excited when I had the opportunity to interview the author of Getting toYes, William Ury. He’s director of the Global Negotiation Project at Harvard, and his new book is The Power of a Positive No: How to Say No and Still Get to Yes. Here are his five best tips for doing well in negotiations.

1. Take a break.
Ury calls this “going to the balcony” in order to get a big picture handle on what’s going on so that you are not getting too worked up over irrelevant details. He says, “When we negotiate when we’re angry we give the best speech we’ll ever regret.”

2. Know your BATNA.
This is negotiator-speak for “best alternative to a negotiated agreement.” That is, if you have to walk away, what’s the best you can get? This tells you how much power you have in negotiations. The person who needs the agreement the least has the best BATNA and the most power.

3. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes.
Ury describes negotiation as an exercise in influence. “You need to change someone’s mind, so you need to know where they are right now.” This means listening more than talking. And the first question to ask is Why. You will hear their needs, but you need to know the underlying cause for the need. For example, if your boss wants you to work a 16-hour day. To negotiate with your boss, you need to understand why – what needs to get done in those hours. Maybe you can get it done a different way.

4. Learn to say no.
“In order to get to the right deal, you need to be able to say no to the wrong deal. Saying no is fundamental to the process of negotiation.”

Tip from the department of great-if-you’re-him: Warren Buffet once said that he doesn’t understand “getting to yes” because he just says no until he sees a perfect yes. Buffet says you only have to give four or five great yes responses in his work in order to be a billionaire.

5. Be clear on your values.
For those of us who might not see a perfect yes, deciding on no is more complicated, and we have to be really clear in our own minds about what we value and what we need. Sometimes a no is surrounded by a deeper yes. For example. You say yes to the values, no to the tactics and yes to going forward. Ury calls this a positive no. But he warns that if you’re in doubt, then the answer if probably no.

What I take away from Ury is that good negotiation is a combination of good self-knowledge and good people skills. And, not surprisingly, this is the combination that gets you a lot of things in life.

There are opportunities in each of our lives to practice negotiations constantly — even, as Web Worker Daily points out, in email. You can do it with a spouse, with a boss, with your neighbor who doesn’t clean the yard. The better you get at the small stuff, the easier the big moments of negotiation will feel.

More money is good, right? You’re going to be doing your job anyway, so you might as well ask to get paid more for doing it.

But you actually have to do a lot of preparation in order to ask for a raise effectively. The most obvious preparation is to find out what everyone else is getting paid for what you do. A recent New York Times story gives a good overview of online resources for salary comparisons.

Here are five other things you can do to get a salary increase:

1. Understand your boss’s perspective.
This is not a moment of truth, it’s a moment of negotiation. You convince your boss you’re worth more and your boss convinces you he or she is fair, and you reach some sort of compromise that makes everyone happy.

So be reasonable in your approach. You don’t deserve a raise just because you’ve been doing your job well for x number of months. It’s your job to do your job well — that’s why you were hired. You need to show that you’re doing more than you were hired to do, or that you’re doing different work that’s typically paid at a higher rate.
Gather as much information about your boss’s perspective as possible in order to form your strongest negotiating position. Consider this list of 10 things bosses hate most about employees.

2. Expand your job duties.
Get really good at your job immediately so that you can take on more responsibility in another job, in another capacity. Look around for something more to do, and figure out how to do it. Then tell your boss you’re doing more than one job and you want to be paid extra for doing the other job you’ve already been doing.

If you think your boss will balk at the idea of you taking on more responsibility, start looking like your current job is under control. One way to do this is to have a completely clean desk. A clean desk says, “I’m totally on top of my workload. Please give me more.” A cluttered desk says, “Help. I’m drowning.”

(I’m not making this stuff up — researchers actually study offices. Here’s a summary of why you should have a clean desk.)

3. Consistently over-deliver.
Even during a salary freeze there’s always more money for superstars, because losing a superstar costs a company a lot of money. So getting a raise is about conveying to the office that you’re a superstar. This could be in the form of taking on more areas of responsibility, but it could also be in the form of exceeding expectations in a very obvious way.

Exceeding expectations is something that must be announced. If you finish your project, that’s what people will understand. If you finish your project with incredible results, you need to remind everyone what the expectations were and what you delivered. If you don’t toot your horn, no one else will. A hallmark of a superstar is they know how to toot their horn with out being annoying.

Superstars aren’t overnight sensations — they work at it. So start performing like a superstar six months before you want to ask for a raise.

4. Get a mentor.
Employees who have mentors are twice as likely to be promoted as those who don’t, according to Ellen Fagenson Eland, a professor at George Mason University. A mentor can help you position yourself, time and again, to receive a raise.

An effective mentor helps you see your path in a way that maximizes your talents and stays consistent with your goals for life. This isn’t small task, and almost all successful people say they have more than one mentor. But start with one, because that will significantly increase the likelihood that you’ll get the raise you’re going to ask for.

Unfortunately, for some people finding a mentor is almost as difficult as asking for a raise. So here are seven ways to find and keep a mentor.

5. Think in non-financial terms.
If more money isn’t happening for you, try asking for something else. Telecommuting, a job for your spouse, extra vacation time, training, even relocation to a company branch in a city with a lower cost of living — these are all things that are worth a lot of money to you, but look a lot less expensive than a salary increase in a company’s budget. So non-financial rewards are a good place to compromise in salary negotiations.

Also, you can turn these benefits to cash next time you change jobs. When you negotiate salary at your next company and they ask you how much you made in your last job, add up all the benefits and include them in the number you give. Some people’s benefits total up to 30 percent of their salary.

If the shy ones among you are thinking this isn’t a fair negotiating tactic, get that thought out of your head. Even CareerHub, a group blog of career coaches, recommends that you include benefits in the total calculation of your salary next time you negotiate.

If none of these steps work, try not to be so obsessed with getting a raise. Think about it — most raises amount to about 4 percent of your salary. That’s nothing. Even if you earn six figures, 4 percent isn’t going to be life-altering.

There are so many more things you can ask for that will actually improve your life, like training in a skill area you’re interested in, or the ability to telecommute a few days a week.

Try focusing on the things that really matter to you instead of the dollar amount attached to your title. You may find that your salary will increase as a natural offshoot of the passion you develop for your work.

 

John Annabel, of Northampton, walked into the office one day to find himself working side by side with a new employee whose only qualification seemed to be that she was having an affair with Annabel's department head. Annabel says people didn't particularly care that she was in the office doing no work until she started taking credit for everyone else's work, most frequently Annabel's.

“I wanted to strangle my boss,” Annabel says. “I wanted to bring that dirtbag girlfriend down before she took credit for one more thing.” But Annabel's supervisor told him to stay calm and to say nothing damaging. He pointed out that the manager would never fire the woman, and the two of them would deny all of Annabel's accusations; complaining would only make Annabel look bad.

So everyone in the department laid low — said nothing about the woman who did nothing except among themselves. When the company went through a reorganization, and the department head changed, the new head said, “Does anyone know what this woman does?” And everyone said, “No,” and she was laid off.

In fact, though, office politics might be the most important skill to master as you climb up the corporate ladder. Julie Jansen, author of I Don't Know What I Want, but I Know It's Not This, says that in corporate life, one has no choice but to be savvy about politics. “Politics is everywhere. It is about the way things are done. It is the personality of the company.” So you have to figure out how to fit in. She tells people, “Be an actor, play the game, follow culture and this is jus as big a part of your job as anything else.”

In the end, Annabel left his job in an effort to escape the political climate of his last job, which left him cold. And he hopes to never have to deal with office politics again.

Larry Stybel, president of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire, says that is it a common reaction to refuse to participate in office politics, but he advises those people “to just get over it.” Politics is not something you can escape. “Politics is really setting objectives and developing a coalition of people that will help achieve that objective.” Stybel explains that office politics does not have to be a bad thing. After all, politics is primarily about diplomacy and coalition building.

Stybel recommends taking the same approach Annabel did in his last job: Find a mentor in the office, someone who is great at office politics, get some direct advice from them about tough spots, but also study them from afar to figure out what they do right.

Jansen adds, “There is a tremendous amount of resistance to office politics.” Many people complain that this sort of behavior goes against who they are at their core. Jansen points out that done right, politics is not inherently immoral. It merely involves, “speaking to the right people, going to the right parties and communicating the way everyone else at the company communicates.”

While Jansen advises that you should not compromise your core values to be political, if you find that you can't ever engage in office politics without violating your core values, then you don't belong in corporate America.

Jansen suggests five steps you can take to be more politically astute immediately:

1. Don't try to change or resist company culture including dress, communication styles and office hours. Being different does not work.

2. Practice self-awareness. This is a life-long task and every day you can become a little bit more aware of how people perceive you. Just doing your job is not enough. You need to do it in a way that makes a positive impression on everyone else.

3. Manage your stress levels so you can avoid emotional displays of inconsistent behavior and inconsistent messages. Most emotional outbursts come from unmanaged stress.

4. Be approachable all the time — in your cube, in the hallway, even in the bathroom.

5. Network before you need to network. Being good at politics means that you are good at relationship building, and you can count on a wide range of people when you need them.

But some people will never feel comfortable playing the political game. For those people, Stybel recommends a job where one can say, “Leave me alone” and still excel at the work: Sales would be a definite no, but a career in, say, programming might work. But take a look at yourself. If you don't have the skills for a leave-me-alone job, you need the skills to make office politics work for you. Otherwise you'll get stuck.

The best thing you can do if you want a flexible schedule is ask for it. Younger workers are finding more and more success when they ask, which should give everyone encouragement to request flextime if they want it.

Laurie Young is a founder of Flexible Resources, a company that specializes in finding flextime jobs for people, and she spends her days convincing employers to create innovative positions. You will probably have to do some convincing as well.

It makes sense: You’d never ask for a raise without presenting competitive salary analysis, and you should do the same when asking for flextime. Fortunately, there is a lot of research to present because many companies offer flextime, and it actually helps those companies because flextime is a cheap and effective tool to boost employee morale.

But keep in mind that flexible schedules aren’t available to people who get the job done. Flextime is generally only offered to overperformers. So be one.

You do not deserve a raise just because you have been doing your job well for x amount of months. It is your job to do your job well. That’s why you were hired.

Also, do not complain about your salary not being at market rate six months after you take your job. Because if you are underpaid it’s your own fault for accepting the job six months ago. Do the salary research before you take the job.

Here is a situation where you do deserve a raise: You are doing more work now than when your salary was set. Caution: This does not mean that you are doing more work within the job description you were hired for. Because then you are just doing what you were hired to do. You need to show you are doing more than you were hired to do.

So if you want a raise in six months, get really good at your job immediately so that you can take on more responsibility in another job, in another capacity. Look around for something more to do, and figure out how to do it. Then tell your boss you are doing more than one job and you want to be paid extra for doing the other job you have already been doing. That’s how to ask for a raise.

What if things are moving too slowly for you? David Christiansen at Information Technology Dark Side gives sound advice for those who are both feisty and mobile — put pressure on your boss relentlessly, and if that fails, job hop.

But hold on. Surely there are more important things you can get from your boss than a little bit more money or a better title. Your career will go further faster if you negotiate for things that really matter.