This article is by staff writer Kristin Wong.
In an ideal world, you wouldn’t need to go negotiate. In an ideal world, the weather would be perfect, there would be no war, and your employer would simply say, “Hey, your value to our company has increased. Here’s ten thousand dollars.”
If only, right? When it comes to earning more, negotiating is usually a necessary part of the equation. The negotiating masters among us have a serious leg up.
I do not have a leg up. In most circumstances, I dread negotiating. I’d rather watch paint dry than negotiate. I’d rather eat a chard smoothie. I’d rather give someone a ride to the airport at 8am on a Monday.
One thing that makes it worth enduring? That whole “making more money” thing.
Last year, I resolved to become a better negotiator. I vowed to do some research and put that research to use, with the comfort of knowing I would later write an article about it, so really, this was about work.
It paid off. I negotiated my way out of a pay cut. I negotiated better freelancing rates. I even walked off a car lot, sticking to my negotiating guns, only to have the dealership call me incessantly later that day, willing to accept my offer.
Each of those instances made me uncomfortable. I’ve gotten better, but I’m still shy when it comes to this kind of stuff. I envy people who have absolutely no problem with it and will negotiate anything and everything.
For the rest of us, here are some simple tips that you can easily try, even if you dread negotiating.
Aim high … and low
Ever put out a number that the other person seemed to accept a little too quickly? It always makes you wonder: “Did I just lowball myself?”
A friend recently gave me this bit of helpful advice. If you have a bad habit of undervaluing yourself, you might consider tacking on a little extra next time you throw out a number. A lot of people underestimate their worth, so it helps to aim higher. The worst that can happen is — your offer is rejected. But you’re probably better off erring on the side of overestimating.
Also, here’s an interesting fact to keep in mind when mulling over your number. In Fearless Interviewing: How to Win the Job by Communicating with Confidence, author Marky Stein says that most employers usually have 15 to 20 percent more in their budget than they originally offer.
And, if you’re buying something, aim low. “Prevention” magazine pointed to a study co-authored by Richard Larrick, Ph.D., a business professor at Duke University. In the study, Larrick found that negotiators usually have more room for haggling than they think.
If you’re the buyer, Larrick suggests offering the seller 15 to 20 percent less than what you can really afford.
“For instance, if you absolutely can’t spend more than $6,000 on a used car advertised at $7,000, try offering $5,100 (15 percent less than $6,000). Next: Explain why this price is reasonable (the car has a limited warranty or few of the extras you were hoping for).”
And, if you’re the seller, do the reverse. Again, aim high.
“Make the initial price 15 percent more than what you’d accept — if you must get $6,000 for your car, offer it for around $7,000 — and have reasons why.”
Aiming high or low doesn’t take a lot of work. Basically, it’s just going with a more realistic number — one that’s probably expected anyway.
Use an exact number
Here’s an incredibly easy negotiating tip: Avoid round numbers. A study from Columbia Business School found that avoiding round numbers makes you more likely to leave the negotiation with a higher figure.
“…we may be losing out by getting stuck on multiples of five and ten, instead of breaking our salary requests into less-common fractions. In fact, if you zero in on a more unusual request, say, for $94,500 instead of $95,000, you may get closer to your goal in the final negotiation.”
Don’t talk about your finances
A while back, I wrote about the power of speaking up. I mentioned that, a couple of times, it’s worked in my favor, when negotiating, to connect with the other party on a personal level. I used a couple of examples:
I once mentioned “my finances” to an employer.
I told my ISP I didn’t have the budget to pay for their rate hikes.
But I was wrong (sorry, readers).
Most of the time, talking about your finances isn’t a good idea when negotiating. As reader Anne pointed out:
“My only issue is making it personal when you ask for a raise. I always counsel against that. EVERYONE suffers from inflation, rent raises, etc. Your reason for asking for more money should be because of your skills, commitment, hard work, or because you have been undervalued compared to market levels.”
And most experts agree with Anne’s comment. In a column for “U.S. News and World Report,” career and money reporter Rebecca Thorman writes:
“Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter if you can’t pay your mortgage, need to save for your child’s education or want a new car. Your compensation is based on the value you provide to your employer, not your finances. If you feel compelled to tell your sad story, don’t. Make sure to leave the personal issues out. Instead, try describing the immense potential you have to bring value to the company.”
This is another easy-as-pie tip for people who don’t like to negotiate. In fact, it appeals to us the most, because it keeps things professional and practical rather than personal and emotional.
Ask at the right time
Timing is important in everything from relationships to stand-up comedy, so it’s not surprising that timing can impact your salary negotiation.
A small negotiating decision anyone can make is to ask at the right time. According to Mint Life‘s Kelly Anderson, the “right time” is usually:
Earlier in the week (not Thursday or Friday)
With plenty of advance notice
Of course, these particulars might not be true for your situation. Maybe your boss is especially grouchy before lunch. Maybe you don’t even work earlier in the week. The point is, it’s important to consider timing when negotiating.
Know Your Stuff
Research is also crucial to successful negotiating — and anyone can do it, whether they have a strong personality or not. It helps to research:
- Your company: Research your company’s financial position. Abby Euler of Salary.com told “U.S. News“: “If the company is not meeting revenue goals, your salary request will most likely fall on deaf ears…Also, ask your manager or HR about when salary reviews happen, so that you can set a meeting at least a month prior to ask for a raise.”
- Your position: If your company is big, they might be listed on Glassdoor. You can use the site to see what other employees in your position are earning. You can also research your job value in general.
- Yourself: Dig up your past accomplishments. If you can quantify your contributions to the company, that can work in your favor.
Know Which Words to Avoid
You can negotiate more effectively by simply making small adjustments to your language. It’s as easy as avoiding some simple words and phrases. Jacky Carter, Community Manager at LinkedIn, suggests you avoid the following:
Teen slang: In particular, Carter points to the tendency of making statements that sound like questions. For exmaple: “Like, I’m a great employee? And I think I deserve a raise?” It doesn’t make you sound confident.
“I’m sorry”: Apologizing weakens your argument, Carter says. “Stay away from saying things like, ‘I’m sorry to ask for this, but I feel that I deserve a raise.’”
“My rate is X, but I’ll take X.”: Carter says this is discounting your worth right out of the gate.
Negotiating still makes me cringe. I have a lot of respect for those who can do it aggressively, without backing down. My uncle once embarrassed the hell out of me at a car dealership by steadfastly arguing a price everyone — including my mother and I — thought was completely ridiculous. At the end of the tussle, we got the ridiculous price.
Then and there, I witnessed just how powerful negotiating can be, especially when you’re strong and you don’t really care what anyone thinks.
Not all of us have a strong personality about that sort of thing, though. It definitely pays to work at being more assertive, but there are a handful of really easy things you can do in the meantime.
I’m still learning to be assertive with my negotiating, but even these small changes have helped.
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