4 tips to help you negotiate a higher salary

Young modern woman having video conference at home

The art of negotiating is useful in many aspects of our lives. Master these simple tactics to become a better communicator and negotiator.

It’s dark except for the light above the table where you sit across from the one person who wants everything you’ve got. Your narrowed eyes are locked with theirs, and the tension between you is thick enough to chew. You’re contemplating your next move, faintly aware of the sweat beads forming on your brow, your pounding heart almost audible in the crushing silence.

We often imagine negotiation scenarios this way, but they’re almost never as dramatic as that.

The reality is that opportunities to negotiate are ever-present and often subtle — from choosing a restaurant among friends to asking for a higher salary. That’s why understanding the basic principles of negotiation will give you an advantage in almost any situation.

Here are four simple negotiating tips that can help you develop effective critical thinking and communication skills early in your career.

Tip #1: Prepare in advance

Good negotiators come to the table equipped with insight into themselves and their counterparts. Don’t wait until the last minute — prepare in advance by identifying the following:

What’s your goal?

This is what you want when the negotiation is done. If you’re asking for a raise, your target is your preferred salary. If you’re purchasing a car, it’s to pay less than the highest amount you’re willing to pay. When determining your goal, do plenty of research to ensure your offer is reasonable and reflects current market trends. Identifying your goal beforehand clarifies what you’re willing to accept — and what you’re not.

What are your negotiables?

Having a list of things that you’re willing to part with gives the illusion of compromise and helps you close a deal on your terms. If you’re negotiating salary, ask yourself if there are any fringe benefits you could live without in order to reach your target pay (e.g. company car, gym membership, or health benefits). Ideally, these negotiables are things that don’t matter as much to you or don’t affect the ultimate benefit of your goal.

You can practice this in casual settings with those around you. Let’s say you and your roommate take turns waking early to make the morning coffee and tomorrow is your turn. You’ve both run out of your favorite roast and your roommate is dreading a trip to the store as much as you’re dreading an early morning. Your roommate doesn’t know you already have to go to the store for another item, so you exchange the store trip for a little extra sleep in the morning. Your roommate believes you’ve saved them from venturing out and you get to sleep in two days in a row. Win-win.

Who is your counterpart, what are their goals and vision?

Understanding who you’re bargaining with is crucial to your success and a preliminary informational interview is a great place to start. When you have a sense of who they are and what motivates them, it will help you build rapport with them and frame your approach to the situation. If you don’t personally know your counterpart or haven’t participated in an informational interview — like if they’re a potential new boss — a Google search or LinkedIn profile can help you find some common ground.

The goal is to build connection through listening and establishing shared goals. Having a basic knowledge about your counterpart’s goals and vision, and spending time in advance building a solid case for how you align and create value in those spaces, will help you be prepared and confident.

Tip #2: Be observant and flexible

The person you’re negotiating with will likely do or say several things during the transaction that will clue you into how they’re feeling. Body language and vocal tonality are great indicators as to whether or not a conversation is leaning in your favor. Rely on these indicators as opportunities to modify your approach for the remainder of the discussion.

Tip #3: Use strategic bargaining

An effective negotiator makes everyone involved feel like they’re gaining something, and you can achieve this by adding wiggle room to your goal through Ackerman bargaining. This is a negotiation strategy attributed to ex-CIA agent Mike Ackerman, and it relies on an offer-counteroffer system.

The strategy works by setting an anchor at 65% of your goal amount, then working up to 85%, 95%, and 100% of your goal (if necessary) through a series of compromises. It also works in reverse for the specific example of negotiating a salary. Here’s how.

The setup.

You’re in talks with Kate, the hiring manager at XYZ, Inc., about a potential new job. You’ve already done the appropriate research and identified your ideal salary package as $70,000 a year with two weeks of paid vacation. Since we’re working backwards in this scenario, you want to add 35% to your goal and set your anchor there: $94,500 annually. Pro tip: let Kate be the first to say a number; if it’s comfortably above your target, further negotiation isn’t necessary.

Initial offer.

Kate tells you the salary for the role is $65,000 a year with three weeks of paid vacation. Respectfully show dissatisfaction with the offer and suggest that research has shown that $94,500 is more appropriate for the role’s responsibilities in your geographic area. This initial offer is likely to be rejected as it’s well above your target; don’t be discouraged.

Counter offer.

Kate amicably tells you XYZ’s salary budget can’t accommodate that number. However, she counters with $72,000 and use of the company gym. This number is now above your ideal salary and includes a fringe benefit. You could end the discussion here or counter with $80,500 (15% over your target) and finally $73,500 (5% over your target). Keep in mind you now have two negotiables to use as leverage: the company gym and the additional week of paid vacation.

Put on your best performance.

Ackerman bargaining depends on how credible you seem, so “sell” your situation. You should appear to be doing everything you can to strike an amicable deal.

Tip #4: Close with confidence

Seal the deal in these steps:

  • Once you’ve reached an agreement, get your counterpart to verbally confirm the details.
  • Then, ask about next steps and timing.
    • Who else needs to approve the deal?
    • Is there a contract to sign?
    • When will the terms of the deal go into effect?
  • Make sure there’s as little room as possible for the deal to fall through.

Regardless of the situation, be patient and thoughtful in all negotiations. Your counterpart must feel respected and appreciated, so lean into your communication skills by listening with empathy and speaking in a clear and friendly manner. Remember that the best negotiators make everyone feel like they’ve walked away with a good deal.

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