Negotiating a Virginia Employment Contract with Your Boss

Pop quiz: “Which of the following is the most irritating way (to get what you want)?”

A: “This is now the 5th time I have asked you to take out the trash.”

B: “Sweetheart, when you get a second would you mind taking the trash out?”

C: “Thank you again for taking the trash out. That is so helpful.”

The answer (we imagine) is choice A.

The goal to effective negotiation is not the manner it gets accomplished but the end result. The stinkin’ trash is taken out.

So if we know this about tone and message, why do many employers (and let’s be honest, employees) act petulant when it comes to negotiating at work? Or worse, when a valued employee tries to leave, why does the company get all, frankly, 4th grade-like and start making baseless threats?

We act poorly when we are hurt, ignored or worried. That’s the underlying theme of employment litigation.

When we feel threatened, sad, worried, etc., we act like jerks.

So employees and employers will often take the low road when it comes to professional interactions. And the response is predictable, more bad words, more threats, more 4th grade like behavior.

Communication matters. Words matter. Tone matters. The way to start a conversation can and will completely affect the way a message is received.

Positive people who are kind, gracious and non-threatening get what they want more often that someone who is not any of these things.

So when someone calls us about making a transition from one job to another, I spend my time advising our client on what the law says, and then, most importantly, what human nature says. We design a communication strategy that is less threatening, kind, and positive so my client the employee is better situated to get what he or she wants. The right to change jobs and avoid litigation.

I find myself saying with some frequency, you get more bees with honey.

Now I know it seems odd for an attorney to give that advice, but it is a cliché for a reason. It’s true.

If you need help making a transition from one job to another and are bound by various restrictive covenants in Virginia, please get advice before you attempt the leap. Those who plan the leap do much better than those who jump.

Lauren Ellerman

Lauren Ellerman

In 2011, Lauren Ellerman was named "Young Lawyer of the Year" by the Roanoke Bar Association for her work in the community. To speak with Lauren about your personal injury case, contact her at