This impulsive strategy does not work for most of us when we’re “negotiating” with our boss.
Copyright Bill Watterson. Image comes from:

If you want to negotiate with your boss, start with “Yes, Boss, and…” Using those words will help you set up the right relationship and communication with your boss so that they are prepared to deal with you when you introduce more difficult discussions.

When you and I negotiate with our bosses, we know that Calvin’s strategy of raising his volume is risky. Our bosses has significant negative power, meaning that she can make our life worse (fire us, give negative performance reviews, etc.). While we can try to pressure or threaten our boss too (go over his head, give negative feedback, etc), normally we will be less effective than our boss and we will harm our relationship with them.

Luckily, there are far more positive skills, resources, and strategies (other forms of power) that we can draw upon. Some of them can be developed far ahead of any real negotiation with our bosses, especially our relationship and communication with our boss. And those are best built by using “Yes, Boss, and…”

Your relationship with your boss will always depend on what she can expect from you.  “No, Boss” is not something your boss wants to hear very often, if at all. On the other hand, just saying “Yes, Boss” doesn’t help matters too much because it  reveals little about your intentions. You could be avoiding confrontation, going through the motions, or genuinely trying to be helpful. In other words, neither “no, boss,” nor “yes, boss” are very helpful in the long-term.

On the other hand, saying “Yes, Boss, AND…” can tell your boss a lot about your intentions. Consider an example. Your boss asks you to prepare a report on the performance of a recent program that your boss will present to his boss. You might say, “Yes, Boss, and is there a particular format that will work best for your boss?”

Using the “and” to gather a bit more information can not only show your boss that you care about making her job easier, but help you do a better job. Both the question and the result will build that relationship you need later.

Of course, that will go even better if you do some research ahead of time so that you can anticipate some of his needs and concerns. Bosses like to help out, but they’ll like it more if you’ve done your homework. It’s important to remember that your boss has a lot of activities, concerns, and needs to balance. The easier you can make it for them to manage their time and resources, the better.

If you consistently seek to understand what your boss needs and what her constraints and concerns are, your boss will know that you always seek to make his job easier. That will make your life a lot easier when you approach her with something surprising or potentially confrontational. After all, you boss’ interpretation of our requests will be coloured by his perceptions of you.

The second reason to say “Yes, Boss, and…” is improving your communication with your boss. We all have different communication styles. Some people prefer written communications and reports, others like verbal, face-to-face discussion, and some will not understand what you are talking about until they can get physically get their hands on it through a field visit, a physical model, or some other tangible representation of the subject.

If you just say “Yes, Boss,” then there is no back and forth discussion through which you will improve your communication. If you don’t ask around and find out what kind of communication your boss prefers, you may continue to choose the wrong method. Work on that communication when the issues are easy so that it is well established for the difficult conversations. Or, in other words, so that good communication becomes a positive habit between your boss and you.

So, if you want to be able to negotiate with your boss, prepare the table long before you ask for something potentially difficult. Use “Yes, Boss, and…” to build a positive relationship and improve your communication so that these become positive resources for you to draw upon when you really need them.