Navigating choppy waters of contract negotiation

Q: I’ve got the job, and the contract has come in the post. It’s about 90 per cent of what I would want it to be, but I feel the role description is too broad. I know from working in this sector that nobody could fulfil everything they are looking for in the spec. My fear is that this contract could be used to get rid of me down the line. I really want to do the job but should I kick up a stink now? (LN, email).

A: Contract negotiations are not my speciality, but I contacted an accountant who has vast experience of drawing up contracts for his employers – and also of studying the ones that have been offered him over the years. Here’s what he sent me back in an email:

“The big thing in contract negotiations is not to throw the toys out of the pram. My approach would always be to proceed along the lines of ‘yes, I got the contract, just a few things I want to check, I will come back to you and once we get those things looked at and agreed upon I hope to sign asap and get started.’

“It is vital to let them know you still want to do the job. Don’t start your negotiations with a stand-off. I’ve seen people come back with replies saying that if the contract issues aren’t resolved straightaway, they won’t be signing anything.

“That’s too bullish and creates tension that might linger into the actual job itself. So keep it at the right level, while reserving the right to up the ante if necessary.

“Isolate what exactly the issues are. Tick them in the contract. If you think there are six job duties too many in the contract, identify them. Of those six, you must also know how many of them are deal-breakers for you.

“Know your opening position – and your closing one. If they only fix three of the six, will you walk away? Or four? Where is your cut-off point? Enter negotiations with your exact position established in your mind.

“It is important when you get down to negotiations that you are very focused on the issues. Make it clear that there are loads of things in the contract that aren’t a problem.

“Either by email, phone or face-to-face, work your way through the issues. Be professional and personable. Explain to them your reasons for querying those issues. Reason with them, rather than plead. You should enter negotiations as a business equal, rather than a subservient – you have a position of power at contract negotiation stage that you may not have again.

“Give them time to go away and think about things. Don’t try to get everything over the line in the first phonecall or meeting. They may have to consult with others, they may have some creative solutions to the issues.

“Proceed along those lines. Ultimately they will make their final position known: you have to decide if that is tenable for you. If not, you walk away – in a dignified, professional manner, not in a ball of smoke. If they meet your position, happy days, and away you go.”

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