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Don’t Say These 4 Words in a Salary Negotiation

by THEA kelley | January 16, 2020

Few conversations are packed with more pressure–and opportunity–than a salary negotiation. Many job seekers fear negotiating and avoid it by simply saying “yes” to the first version of the job offer.

There’s no need to cave in and leave money and perks on the table. Here are some tips and tools that will help you negotiate more confidently and effectively.

These tips are based on the book Fearless Salary Negotiation by Josh Doody. Many of them are common strategies I’ve been writing about all along, such as avoiding discussion of specific salary figures before receiving an offer (and here’s an infographic about what to say instead). But I wanted to highlight some insights I haven’t focused on before.

Don’t say these 4 words:

“No” and other negative words.

“No” is one of the most common words in the English language. But in negotiation, negative language can make people defensive, interfering with the positive rapport and collaborative spirit that lead to win-win solutions. Instead, say things like “I would be more comfortable with…” or “Here’s another option…”  It may be best to avoid any language more negative than “that doesn’t work for me” or “I’m not sure this is a win-win, yet.”

Although you’re not saying the word “no,” you’re not accepting the current offer, either.

“Try” and “later.”

Let’s say you feel the salary they’re offering is a bit low, and they’ve informed you that the first opportunity for a merit increase would come a year after hire. You’ve gotten as far as you can in improving the immediate offer, so you’re asking for a promise of a salary review six months after hire. The tip is: Do not say “try,” as in “let’s try to reevaluate at that point.”

Likewise, if you get a “try” response, like “we’ll try to do that,” the chances are good that it will never happen. Get a firm commitment. As Yoda said in the fifth Star Wars movie, “Do or do not, there is no try.” Don’t let them weasel out.

And don’t say “later,” as in “we can talk about tuition reimbursement later, after I start.” You will probably never again have such a strong negotiating position–they want you and they don’t yet have you–so now is the time to get agreement on the benefits, perks and working conditions you want.

There are exceptions. For example, flexible work schedules are often negotiated tentatively, with language like “That should be all right” or “Let’s try that out and see how it goes.” Schedule flexibility often becomes a regular part of the job once trust has grown.

“Sorry.”

Salary negotiation is an uncomfortable process. At times your negotiating partner may be unhappy with a request or counteroffer you make, and it’s tempting to make nice with an apology. This is a mistake for two reasons.

First, it can signal to  the recruiter or hiring manager that you might be willing to back down, and that could cost you money or benefits that you could have had.

Second, an apology is not called for, because there is nothing wrong with negotiating; it’s a normal part of professional life. By all means be warm, friendly and appreciative throughout the process, but don’t apologize for doing business.

So that’s what not to say. Here’s some guidance on helpful language to use in salary negotiation.

To make negotiation easier, I’ve created a Negotiation Template that helps you plan your negotiation discussion, shows you how to introduce and justify your “ask” in each area and suggests open-ended questions you can ask to encourage win-win thinking on the part of all parties. You can download this tool for free when you subscribe to this blog.

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