Negotiate your salary or a new role? Ask “What would Machiavelli do? “

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People who are aiming for a higher salary or a promotion can find winning career advice in a 500-year-old treatise that is often attributed to freshman reading.

This is the argument of a new book by Stacey Vanek Smith, including “Machiavelli for Women: Defend Your Worth, Grow Your Ambition, and Win the Workplace” explains to readers how to gain and retain power in a newly conquered country. , or in this case, the modern office. Seeking new ideas for closing the racial and gender pay gap at work, Ms Smith revisited ‘The Prince’ and says she found Niccolò Machiavelli’s advice – to observe what works and to do it – was liberating.

The Italian diplomat who navigated the political hierarchy of 16th-century Florence has a surprisingly relevant insight to professional women and men. “He took the emotion and the morality out of the situation and looked at it like a chess board,” she said.

Not all of Machiavelli’s movements apply. (Mrs. Smith does not recommend, as Machiavelli did, killing the family of a defeated enemy to avoid retaliatory plots.) But there are many other strategies described in “The Prince” that can be useful to anyone open to facing persistent challenges with compromises and imperfect solutions, she said.

In a recent interview, Ms Smith explained how current workers can use Machiavelli’s lessons to their advantage. Edited excerpts:

WSJ: What is an example of a time when you applied Machiavelli’s advice to your career?

Mrs. Smith: I found that a male co-worker who had fewer years of experience and produced roughly the same amount as me made a lot more money – like $ 20,000 more per year – than me. I went to my boss’s office without a plan and started to cry. It was the worst possible approach.

I had every reason to cry. But if I had been more Machiavellian, I would have thought, “How can I use this information? I would have gone with a plan and said, “Look, I know how much my coworker gets paid.” Obviously my salary has to match that, given my years of experience. I would have seen it more as an opportunity than a simple punch.

People tend to associate Machiavelli with cruelty. You reject this dimension of his philosophy.

Machiavelli is definitely associated with evil, but reading “The Prince” what struck me was that he was not malicious. Ruthless, perhaps. He just analyzed everything. “It’s not a great reality. But if you are in it, what do you do?

Are there bad ways to apply these principles?

Yes. The trickiest thing about writing the book was that some of the advice seemed very outdated. An advice [in the book] is to smile in a job interview if you are female people will respond to you better. This of course doesn’t mean you have to smile, it’s a recommendation.

But there comes a time when your identity starts to be a bit compromised and I would tell people that you just need to see what works for you. One of the people I spoke to for the book, Dr Tina Opie, found out – and this ringed very true to me – that when you act in a way that isn’t genuine, you take one. cut. It hurts you personally and emotionally.

How assertive do you have to be when you’re still applying for a job?

How you assert yourself is key. Think about your power versus the power of the business. Are there millions of people lined up to take your job? Do you have very scarce skills? It’s always about getting as much data as possible. When you present data like this, it is seen as less assertive and more like, “I did my homework.”

There is a lot of research that shows that if you bring new elements into a negotiation instead of going face to face on one thing, there is a much higher chance of success. “I want $ 75,000, but I want this title. I would really like to work on this project. I would really love August off. I would really love to work from home on Fridays. It takes negotiation out of the emotional zone and puts it in a much more analytical, conversational, and more Machiavellian place.

The book focuses on women, but can men use this advice?

The job is not easy for anyone. Even if you are the most privileged person, it is still competitive. A lot of the men I have spoken to have a tremendous amount of anxiety about negotiating. It applies to all those who find it difficult to ask for more for themselves.

What is the book’s most important message for job seekers right now?

In the 15 years that I have covered the economy, I don’t think I have ever seen a period when workers had so much power. Companies are very keen on keeping workers or hiring them. This could be a very important time for people to ask for situations that will make them happy, besides the money and the title.

One of the reasons so many women have stayed away is not being able to balance childcare and work. Now that the stigma surrounding remote working is much less, now is the perfect time for people to ask for whatever will make the job they want possible.

What job would Machiavelli have today?

He was basically Florence’s secretary of state, but business now has more power than government, I think. He would be responsible for Google’s strategy, because of all the personal information. He would work with big data. You know, walk slowly, carry big data.

Learn more about managing your career

Write to Kathryn Dill at [email protected]

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