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The Art of Salary Negotiation

Salary negotiation is rarely an easy task. Whether you want to negotiate before you get the position, or after you’ve got it, the success of the negotiations lies in the salary negotiation skills of the person making the request, in this case, you.

When someone receives an offer for a position they’ll enjoy and have been waiting for, but the salary is lower than they think they deserve, it’s time to consider negotiating. People who have been there already know the ins and outs of this delicate process, and therefore give access to the best tips for salary negotiation.

Remain Likable

Although this may sound trivial, it’s one of the most important things to consider when negotiating anything. People are only going to agree with you and fight for you if they like you. Anything you do that could make you less likable will weaken your case during negotiations. 

And while a big part of this is just remaining polite, it’s also about much more than that. It’s about managing the tension that may occur. You can do this by making your case without seeming greedy, being persistent without being nuanced, and paying attention to other intricate things like this.

The best way to stay one step ahead of likability is by trying to view yourself from the viewpoint of the people across the table. Try to stay calm, collected, and avoid including personal matters in the negotiations.

Understand the People Across the Table & Their Constraints

Speaking of being empathetic, it’s also very important to understand the people you’re negotiating with. After all, you are trying to influence a person to fight for your interests. Consider the person you’re speaking to, as negotiating with an HR representative is very different from negotiating with your soon-to-be boss.

You can gain more detailed information about the offer from an HR representative, but they may be more reluctant to break the precedent, as they have a strict job to do. On the other hand, while detailed questions about the offer may “annoy” the boss because they will benefit more directly from you joining the team, they may be able to fight for you in the long run.

At the end of the day, whether they like you or not is not your only concern. You also need to familiarize yourself with their constraints. Although they might think you deserve everything you’re asking for, they might have certain obstacles in the way that they can’t go around. One of the most influential of these constraints is salary caps they can’t loosen.

Your task is to determine whether these constraints are flexible or not, and if they are, how much are they able to loosen? Some companies are not flexible in regards to salary, but they are flexible on start dates, vacation time, and other bonuses and benefits.

Other companies have some wiggle room when it comes to your salary, but aren’t flexible when it comes to benefits and bonuses. A third kind is a company which is open to raising your salary in the future, but can’t negotiate your starting salary. The better you understand and can empathize with these obstacles, the more likable you’ll be, and the more you’ll be able to remain reasonable.

Build Your Case


Once you determine that the salary they’re offering isn’t enough, don’t simply counter with a higher number. Build your case and help them understand why you’re requesting higher pay. Highlight all the ways the company would benefit with you on board, and focus on your strengths.

Connect all the ways your skills and experience will benefit the company with concrete examples. This starts with researching the company’s processes, and exact way of working. This way you’ll be able to more easily implement your strengths into the company’s everyday operation.

If you think you have no justification for this demand, it may be better not to make it at all. Also, you need to be smart in the way you communicate and build your case, and avoid coming through as arrogant or pretentious.

Remember: They’re Not Your Enemies

Salary negotiation can be tough, and long. This may make you consider whether or not the people on the other side of the table have it in for you. But rest assured, if you did everything right on your part, these people like you, and are doing their best to keep on liking you. Also, these people rarely put their personal agenda on the table, therefore they don’t see you as an “enemy”, they see you as a negotiator.

The prolongation of the process may not be the result of them not liking you, but the result of them trying to reflect on constraints you may not know to exist. A delay can also be the result of other concerns of the hiring manager. What you can do in this case is staying in touch, but letting them know you’re patient. 

Focus on the Intent of the Question Rather than the Question Itself

Tough questions may occur throughout this process, but it’s your job to answer them rationally. A big part of this is the ability to see beyond the question itself and answer to the intent of the question instead.

Firstly, you must be prepared for the tough question, because if you’re not, you might end up saying something inelegant, evasive, or even untrue. The latter is something you want to avoid when it comes to negotiations.

Some questions will make you feel uncomfortable or weak, and you need to prepare for them. The goal is to answer honestly while remaining attractive as a candidate. But sometimes questions come up that you couldn’t prepare for, from an angle, you didn’t expect, and that is when you need to focus on the intent of the questioner.

For example, you hear a question like: “if I were to give you an offer here and now, would you accept it immediately?” Most likely, you panic. If you say yes, what if you actually need to do it? Are you ready for this? And most importantly, what is the honest answer to this question?

Looking beyond the question, the questioner may simply be interested in knowing if you’re excited about the job enough for them to consider this negotiation? Remember, these people aren’t out to get you. They’re simply gathering information, just like you.

Even if you don’t like the question, don’t assume anything. Answer in a way that addresses the intent, or ask for clarification. Engage in a genuine conversation rather than trying to get out of the line of questioning, and show a willingness to help answer whatever issue they’re trying to resolve.

Avoid Ultimatums

When it comes to ultimatums, you can either avoid, ignore, or downplay them. But never engage with them. People don’t like being given an ultimatum, and this is true to you, and the people across the table as well. Therefore, never engage in it when you’re given one, and never offer an ultimatum to the person you’re trying to negotiate with.

This is important because ultimatums love the battlefield of negotiations, they strive on this tension. But you have to resist and avoid them. When receiving an ultimatum, the best thing to do is ignore it altogether. Instead, change the subject. “I see how this is difficult, given our conversation today, so perhaps we circle back to this, and discuss something else in the meantime?”

Pretend like it never happened, that way the questioner won’t lose face, and you’ll remain professional as well. Therefore, there’s still room to circle back to good grounds later on, without having this linger. And if they don’t want to take back the ultimatum, and are intent on giving it, they will make it clear over time.

Be Patient

Sometimes negotiations take a while, and that’s okay. Other times negotiations are over within minutes, and they don’t seem to budge. Both of these are completely normal. What’s not negotiable today may be negotiable tomorrow. 

Interests and constraints always change, and a negative answer is only as good as the given circumstances at that moment. The same person who said no because of certain circumstances can be the person who offers a better deal due to changes in constraints.

For example, small perks and benefits, like working from home once a week may be inaccessible to you due to the lack of flexibility your boss has. But it’s also possible that with time, you’ll be able to build up more trust, and your boss will be more comfortable with the arrangement.

Overall, be willing to leave the conversation on the table, and put a pin in it for future discussion. Also, encourage others too to be willing to revisit these issues that were left unresolved. If you remember these few keys, you’ll be at peak performance during the negotiations, and the odds of a positive decision will be much higher.

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