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Salary Negotiation in Tough Times: What Not to Do


The U.S. fiscal climate is going from bad to worse, with Wall Street firms crumbling and unemployment edging ever higher. All this makes for an uneven landscape for salary negotiations, which aren’t easy even during a robust economy. To succeed with salary negotiations in tough times, experts say workers should definitely avoid certain tactics.

Holly Weeks, author of “Failure To Communicate: How Conversations Go Wrong And What You Can Do To Right Them," says it’s important not to cop a combative stance during salary negotiations. She explains: " … the typical approach is to think of this as warfare, there will be a winner and loser, someone is one up, usually the boss is one up, and the worker is one down." But turning a salary negotiation into a battlefield isn’t an effective strategy, so you shouldn’t be combative, or assume your manager will be.

"At the same time, it’s possible your counterpart will shift into a combat mentality. So you will have to think about ways of handling the conversation unilaterally instead of assuming [your boss] will meet you half-way," Weeks says.

Other Tips for Successful Salary Negotiation

1. Don’t be the one to bring up money during salary negotiations. “When you bring it up you risk being perceived as greedy, overly focused on money, less interested in the role and the organization, etc.,” says Dr. Todd Dewett, associate professor of management at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio. “Let them broach the topic. You focus on building positive impressions, which are the seeds of positive relationships. The better you do this, the quicker they will talk about money.”

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2. Don’t get personal during a salary negotiation. Discussing shifts in your financial status, personal debt or other obligations aren’t relevant and won’t help you during a salary negotiation, says Barbara Safani, president of New York-based Career Solvers, a career-management firm. Salary requests shouldn’t hinge on need, but on a sound argument about the market value for your position.

3. Don’t get emotional during salary negotiations. Focus on why the raise makes good business sense, says Joyce Maynard, vice president of HR Xpress, a human-resources firm in Rhode Island. “Business people don’t cry, whine, beg, yell or insult customers when they are trying to make a sale,” according to Maynard.

4. Don’t make threats during a salary negotiation. Threatening to leave if you don’t get the raise is the worst possible approach you could take in a salary negotiation, and it never works, according to Jacob Share of JobMob, a blog for job seekers and recruiters.

5. Don’t focus on the outcome of during salary negotiations. Fixating on getting the raise won’t deliver a successful salary negotiation, says Jim Camp, negotiation coach and author of “No: The Only Negotiating System You Need for Work and Home.” You should instead focus on what you can control during the conversation: Your behavior.

6. Don’t talk trash about others during a salary negotiation. “Most importantly don’t throw your co-workers, the department or vendors ‘under the bus’ in order for you to get a raise. Nothing turns people off more than a complainer or gossiper,” Maynard notes.

7. Don’t ask yes or no questions during salary negotiations. These are too simple and won’t help you gather information. “Get your employer spilling the beans by beginning all of your questions with an interrogative–who, what, when, where, how, or why,” Camp says. 

8. Don’t seek to impress your manager during a salary negotiation. “Never dress to impress, brag, or be pretentious. Let her feel completely at ease with you, and perhaps even a bit superior,” according to Camp.

9. Don’t look for guarantees during salary negotiations. “Avoid discussing guaranteed employment. In today’s economy, it’s difficult for most businesses to predict their revenue future,” says Katy Piotrowski, a career counselor in Fort Collins, Colo.


Matt Schneider
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