Starting a salary negotiation in your 50s or 60s can be a terrifying prospect. In many ways, it is like negotiating a salary increase at any other age – you worry about hurting your reputation with your boss, feel awkward about asking for a raise and worry that doing so will hurt your prospects at the company.

That said, in my experience, asking for a raise after 50 is even harder than it is at 20 or 30. The simple reason is that people our age are worried that starting a salary negotiation so late could be the final nail in their forced retirement coffin.

I completely understand and sympathize with this concern. Ageism is real. It is not something that baby boomers made up to get sympathy. Despite the fact that many countries have laws against firing someone based on their age, it still happens. So, I understand why people in my age group are nervous about “rocking the boat.”

 
 

In a separate article, I will give you some specific tips for handling the actual salary negotiation once it begins. Today, I would like to focus on one simple concept – BATNA. This is an important concept for salary negotiators of all ages to understand, but, as you will see, it has special significance for older adults.

What is BATNA and Why Should Older Workers Care?

According to professional negotiators, BATNA stands for “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.” In essence, it asks you what your next best option would be if the negotiation failed.

In my opinion, BATNA is the single most important negotiating concept on this planet and it should be taught in high-school. It is absolutely essential for anyone over 50 who wants to negotiate their salary.

Of course, it is extremely unlikely that you will be fired for asking for a raise. That said, I think that it is useful to think about getting fired as being the ultimate negative consequence.

First, thinking about what you would do if you lost your job forces you to develop contingency plans that you should probably have in place anyway as you approach retirement. Do you have a side business in place? Are you saving enough for retirement? Are you activity networking and managing your contacts? Do you have strong personal relationships with people at other companies that you would be interested in working at?

Don’t assume that, just because you have worked somewhere for decades, it will be the last place that you work. It always pays to have a backup plan.

Second, even if you think that the chances of getting fired for asking for a raise are slim (and they are!) considering your BATNA will make you just a little bit more assertive in your salary negotiation meeting.

As I said, there are plenty of techniques that you can use to make your salary conversation more successful. These include researching comparative salaries, documenting your successes and using contingencies (“Can we agree that if I accomplish X, my salary will be updated to Y”). Knowing your BATNA will make you more likely to use them!

Where Can You Learn More About BATNA?

The concept of BATNA first appeared in Getting to Yes, the 1981 bestseller by Roger Fisher and William Ury. That said, I personally preferred the explanations given in Negotiation Genius.

Regardless of which one of these books you choose, I strongly encourage you to research the concept of BATNA more deeply than I can cover it here. It will help you in every social interaction that you have at work… and, it may just help you to achieve success at your next salary negotiation.

What advice would you have for someone in our community who is thinking about a salary negotiation in their 50s or 60s? Did you know about the concept of BATNA before you read this article? How have you applied it in your life? Please join the conversation.

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