Salary negotiation: how to navigate the conversation

Written by
Stacie Graham

23 Jun 2016

23 Jun 2016 • by Stacie Graham

On average, women earn less than men for the same work. At the same time, research shows that women initiate negotiation talks less than men and have a less active approach in discussing salary. Further, women experience more discomfort around negotiating a raise than men do.

Most of the women I work with offer similar reasons as to why they do not initiate such conversations: they do not want to upset anyone, they are afraid of rejection, and they normally don’t ask/ like to discuss money. While it isn’t uncommon that people generally avoid what they expect to be uncomfortable conversations, it is severely costly to women’s salaries and professional trajectories on the whole.

In business women are faced with a double bind. If they ask for things that they want, they are labelled pushy and aggressive. If they do not, it is assumed that they don’t understand the politics. Here are some guidelines on how to navigate the dreaded salary negotiation.

Be prepared

Negotiation outcomes are greatly improved if people come prepared to the conversation. In some industries, pay information can be hard to come by. Ask friends, colleagues and acquaintances whom you can trust. Otherwise you might accept an offer 10% lower than male candidates.

If you know that you would like to discuss pay, let the other party know as well, so that they too can come prepared. Springing the topic on someone can put them on the defensive, simply because the topic makes them uncomfortable. 

Be proactive

Women tend to rely on their work speaking for itself. While that may also be true, it's important to bring attention to your work and its value. Actively seek optimal opportunities to discuss a raise, e.g., after an annual review or when assigned a project or position with substantially more responsibility. It’s important to see challenging conversations as a resource rather than an obstacle. 

Be persuasive

Women must use different styles of communication in order to arrive at fair salaries. Frame the conversation less around deserving the raise and more around why it makes sense for the organisation or the person you’re trying to convince. Research finds that women who speak in first person plural (we) achieve better outcomes. Anticipate potential objections and offer win-win solutions that leave both parties feeling mutually respected and valued.

Be creative

Rather than seeing negotiations as combative, i.e., there are winners and losers, start from a collaborative mindset. Sometimes circumstances, such as economic fluctuations, stage of company growth and so on, will prove restrictive in the negotiation process. Ask yourself what other possibilities could be rewarding. Fringe benefits cannot replace an appropriate base salary, but things like home office, flexible work hours, off days that can be used for freelance work, and so forth also have value.

Be self-confident

You can rest assured that the other party feels just as uncomfortable about negotiating as you do. It's essential to enter such talks with confidence. By planning the first four points, it's possible to boost confidence ahead of the big conversation. But most of all, know and trust your work’s value.