There’s a lot of general advice out there about negotiation skill and strategy so we’re not going to waste your time by rehashing generalities.
What to Say When Negotiating
To that end, we’ve put together a list of 15 actual things to say that might come in handy when you’re feeling tongue-tied in a negotiation, at any stage of the process. These tips will also help you when you’re trying to do sensitive but critical research to prepare for a conversation about salary with your current or prospective employer.
1. Approaching your boss directly.
Example: “I love what I’m doing, I’m devoted to company success, and I believe the company has really grown/benefited/changed because of the way I’ve contributed to X and Y. These improvements one reason I’d like to talk to you about getting a salary increase or job title promotion.”
The best way to convince someone else to give you more money is to believe you deserve it. This is quite a serious and practical piece of advice, despite sounding “touchy-feely”. Studies show that women commonly suffer from a confidence gap that hurts them at work regardless of their actual competence and qualifications.
Many recruiters say that confidence is very important in the negotiation process. So what do you do if you have doubts about whether you actually should get a higher salary? First, realize that most people do, but that shouldn’t stop you from believing you deserve a raise or a higher salary.
Second, attack each doubt head-on. Make a list of every reason you think you may not deserve the raise or higher salary. Then, go through the list and provide a counter-argument for each issue. While you’re doing this, you may end up creating an even better affirmative statement than the one you first started with. It may also help you to put yourself in your best supporter’s shoes when you provide these counter-arguments.
Professor Hannah Riley Bowles found that women tend to feel more comfortable and are judged by others more favorably when we negotiate on others’ behalf rather than our own. The phenomenon has been described as the “Mama Bear” stereotype. Well, if you make a conscious effort and add some imagination, you may be able to turn that strength into something that works for yourself.
2. Asking an expert for negotiation advice.
Example: “I’m considering a new position. Do you know how much a [X title] typically makes at [Y kind of company]?”
Yes, doing your research means you will have to talk about money.
Most women are very uncomfortable talking about financial matters. To make things easier, try to talk to people whose job it is to have that information. Recruiters are one good source because they have a comprehensive view of an industry and are often trying to be viewed as thought-leaders in the space. They will sometimes publish annual salary reports.
Human resources employees in your network are another source of information when you’re in the negotiation process. You may have to ask for introductions to their connections if they don’t know the answer or much beyond a large salary range. It may still be helpful to hear what they have to say.
3. Comparing salaries with industry colleagues.
Example: “Hi Mark, my friend Beverly said you might be able to help me out. She told me you’re a fellow Marketing Director. I’m in the advanced stages of interviewing with a company for that role and I’m wondering whether you think a salary range of $X-$Y is competitive in the marketplace.”
One way to reduce tension when asking for salary information among friends and acquaintances is to share your own information, however vaguely.
4. Asking for salary intel online.
Example: “What do you think a communications director at a mid-sized, growing tech company in the hardware space should make in Silicon Valley? I’m looking for a new job and it would be great to get some ideas.”
To virtual strangers within discussion boards, you can simply ask questions about salary with reference to the size of your company, your prospective or current title, and any other information you think is pertinent, such as location. There are many specialized professional communities online (e.g. ones for doctors, hedge fund analysts, pharmaceutical salespeople, software engineers) that provide a forum to pose questions like these. Sites like Salary.com, Payscale, and Glassdoor also provide useful salary information.
If your job role or job title is unique, you’re an executive, or you work at a smaller company where salary information is harder to come by, you will have to do a deeper investigation. For example, if you’re evaluating an executive or management position, or very high profile role, consider comparing it to jobs whose salaries are reported in the public domain.
Public companies require officers and director compensation to be reported and filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Even if you aren’t working at a public company or in a C-suite position, you can still use these compensation figures as a benchmark since its fair to assume many of those individuals did research on their pay. Find comparable job responsibilities or similarly sized companies or divisions to the one you are joining — especially at competitors.
5. Asking colleagues to put in a good word.
Example: “Hey Joe, I’m about to try to pitch my manager on a promotion and it would really help me out if you could let him know what you thought of how my recent project for Client X was received.”
In other words, asking others to put in a good word for you can play a big part in negotiating salary.
While you should aspire to be your own best advocate, the reality is that sometimes someone else may be more influential than you simply because they are already are a trusted friend, colleague or acquaintance of the person with whom you’re negotiating.
Say you are negotiating with your current employer for an increase to your current salary. Perhaps a colleague in a different department or a close client is the right person to ask for a recommendation. You can ask someone you think your manager will respect to put in a good word for you, and you don’t have to over-explain.
6. Naming your salary expectations.
Example: “I’m so thrilled [about your offer]. We’ve discussed so much about the position and my background and I’ve gotten really excited about it. Since the only major thing we haven’t talked about is compensation, I just wanted to make sure we’re roughly on the same page.”
If you think this dialogue looks strange, that’s because it is. Most people wait until they are given a salary offer before they react, much less negotiate. Our advice is the opposite. We think you should ask for the pay you want and be clear about your own salary requirement before you receive a numerical offer from a potential employer or your current employer. This will ensure you control the “anchor” figure in your negotiation for a salary increase.
Anchors are well known to be highly influential in negotiations. Studies show that one of our cognitive biases, i.e. tendencies that are beyond conscious, rational control, is to complete a negotiation around the first number put forward. It turns out that we illogically fixate on the first number and it ends up looming larger than any number that’s subsequently raised during the negotiation.
Simplistically speaking, there are generally three possible “anchor” figures for any salary negotiation: (a) your most recent salary, (b) your employer’s offer, and (c) your salary request, or what you tell your employer you want. If you control the anchor, you get to pick the number that has outsized influence in the final outcome.
This may not always be possible. But if your prospective employer calls you to say “Hi Amy, we’re really excited to be able to extend an offer to you” and then pauses—this is your chance to jump right in!
7. Explaining your rationale.
Example: “The salary I’m asking for is directly based on my salary history, education, training, and qualifications. So you can consider $Z a guide.”
One of the reasons most job candidates don’t get to put forward an anchor figure of their choosing is that they have previously answered a recruiter or hiring manager’s question about their most recent salary or salary history.
So our advice is guarded about this information (assuming that the answer is not to your advantage, of course). You have no legal or moral obligation to share your salary history and though it may seem unreasonable to not provide it, here are a few different answers we think are better alternatives to answering the question directly.
8. Explaining how your new situation is different and deserves a salary increase.
Example: “My most recent salary was much higher than the one you’re offering. In fact, sharing it seems unfair because the company was experiencing major growth at the time. For this role and given my skill set, I think $X is appropriate.”
9. Explaining how your past role was different and you need a salary increase.
Example: “The pay in my last role isn’t very relevant here because it was for a pretty different role and set of responsibilities. I’m really focused on how important this job’s deliverables are, which is why I think $Y is a reasonable salary.”
This statement can also come in handy if you already gave in to persistent questions (or previously disclosed) your salary history. It allows you to explain why it may not be relevant to base your current offer on your salary history alone.
10. Having a figure in mind and sticking to it.
Example: “I think $X is fair and I will accept that offer. I think $X is fair and I will accept that offer. I think $X is fair and I will accept that offer.”
No, we don’t literally think you should repeat yourself. But our (belabored) point is to practice. Very few people are good at negotiating because very few people practice. You should enlist the help of your partner, spouse, friends, and family (or at a minimum, your mirror).
Rehearse some of the lines you anticipate using, and say them until you’re very comfortable. Practice will make the awkward moments feel just a bit more comfortable, and we’ve found that saying numbers aloud really does make the real conversation feel easier.
11. Negating gender biases.
Example: “You realize you’re hiring me to run our deal teams, so you want me to be good at this.”
These words are taken straight out of Sheryl Sandberg’s mouth from her negotiation with Facebook. In other words, Sandberg made it a point to emphasize why it was legitimate to be negotiating in the first place. This is something that negotiation experts say is particularly important for women who can be socially penalized for asking for more.
A study in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology shows that women can be viewed more negatively than men for negotiating for the same things because of social perceptions and unconscious expectations that women should be “nice” and not “too demanding.”
Example: “This is the last time I’ll be on the other side of the table.”
This is the second thing Sandberg made a point to say. As a result of the social stigma women can experience when they negotiate, this statement is meant to encourage women to pursue negotiation in a collaborative manner. In other words, it may sometimes be helpful to explicitly point out that you don’t generally hold a”me against you” mentality.
13. De-escalating the situation.
Example: “Look, I don’t mean to create an awkward situation but I really think I’m the best person for the job and I hope we can get to a number that will be a good foundation for a great, long-term relationship.”
Sometimes you simply need to acknowledge and diffuse a conversation that’s gotten too heated for your liking. Saying something like the above can make everyone relax. It also acknowledges the fact that negotiation is typically uncomfortable for everyone involved and that it’s a short-term issue for the sake of a longer-term equilibrium.
If you’ve reached this point, sometimes its best to simply take a break and let the message sink in. Plus, you should have already decided whether you have a “walk away” number and whether you would accept “no” for an answer.
14. Using silence to your advantage.
Example: [Repeat the number.] Say “Hmm.” Or say nothing at all.
Silence can be golden. One of our favorite practical tips from salary experts is to be silent when you need more time to react, or think. Or perhaps, you simply don’t know what to say.
Silence can play to your advantage. Nobody likes uncomfortable silences and you can use this type of delay tactic to buy you time to think.
15. Taking some time.
Example: “Thank you very much. I need to take some time to consider this.”
If you think you need more than just a to consider an offer—or to prepare to negotiate it—don’t feel the need to respond and nod, or say “OK”. Being agreeable too quickly is something that can cost you thousands of dollars, and you’re not being disagreeable simply by asking for more time.
A new job is a big decision that may require some more research and thought. Most recruiters agree that employers will not think it odd for you to take some time to consider an offer so long as you express enthusiasm for the role and have provided some reasonable timeline for getting back to them or a reason for your request.
How to Win Negotiations as A Woman.
Why do women need their own specific negotiation advice?
While everyone could probably improve their skills when it comes to their ability to negotiate, women tend to need a different negotiation strategy because of unconscious biases that come into play about what role and behaviors women should adopt.
Most advice about how to negotiate your salary tends to be generic. Meaning, it tends to treat men and women the same way even though studies repeatedly show that women (a) tend to negotiate less of the time and (b) may have to take on a different negotiating style in order to succeed.
For example, studies show that men tend to be viewed as confident—i.e. a positive quality—when they ask for more whereas women can be viewed negatively and perceived as greedy or “high maintenance” when they ask for the same. Due to these typically unconscious biases, women need to be cognizant of how they present their requests in order not to be unfairly penalized.
Fair? Certainly not. But a successful negotiation is what you’re after and accepting that there is a price to pay for being female is simply accepting what is realistic if you want to be an effective negotiator. Many women say they are viewed more favorably if they position their requests as a win-win outcome, for example, playing on the gendered and outdated idea that women should be conciliatory and be cooperative.
While you could argue that win-win negotiations tend to be more successful than anything positioned as a zero-sum game, female negotiators, in particular, need to be cognizant of how they are perceived by the other party in negotiations.
The bottom line.
Let us be clear: we’re not advocating that you walk into a negotiation with memorized verses about salary requirement that may be completely inappropriate for your situation. That would lead to strange, tone-deaf conversations that might decrease your chances of landing a job offer if you’re in the interview process. That said, sometimes the most practical advice is literal. We think it always helps to hear what other people have said about how to negotiate salary, and you can adjust these ideas to your personality and context.
While it’s never easy to ask for more, it can be well worth the effort of practicing a few of these lines in order to minimize the difficulty of thinking on your feet during awkward moments. Regardless of the outcome, most people tend to regret not negotiating. You’ve taken a big step in attempting to do it, so good luck!
For more advice, read This is How to Negotiate Your Salary.
- Negotiations are nerve-wracking and challenging, but research and preparation will help guide you through the process.
- Some approaches include comparing salaries with industry colleagues, explaining your rationale and using silence to your advantage.
- Unconscious bias often affects women more than men in the negotiation process. Fair or not, this means women need to be especially cognizant of how they present their salary requests.