Initiating a conversation about your salary is often an uncomfortable process to navigate. The fear of rejection and disappointment can make it easy to get tongue-tied and use language that might hurt your chances of getting what you want.
All successful negotiations begin with being aware of the words you use. I’ve spent more than a decade coaching Fortune 500 executives and their teams on how to achieve their objectives through effective communication.
When it comes to compensation negotiations, here are the five phrases that set people back the most:
1. ‘More money’
What to say instead: An exact salary range.
Too often, negotiators freeze up when naming their request. They shy away from specifics and make open-ended statements like “I want more money.”
But the best way to get what you want is to say what you want. I’ve seen people hesitate because they’re worried they’ll either aim too high or undersell themselves by aiming too low.
No great negotiator goes in unprepared. Do some digging on your team and in your market to find out what people of your caliber are making. Use that data to determine the lowest amount you’ll accept, and state it clearly in your range.
2. ‘I think I deserve this because…’
What to say instead: “I deserve this because…”
Great negotiators don’t think, they know. They are confident about how much value they bring to the organization, and they aren’t afraid to articulate it.
If you’ve gotten praise from co-workers, managers or other supervisors, bring those emails or performance review notes to the negotiation conversation. Adding outside, objective opinions will make your case even more compelling.
And wherever possible, quantify. Speak about your contributions in specific terms like revenue increases or successful projects you worked on.
3. ‘I was hoping for…’
What to say instead: “Based on how my experience is valued in the market and in this organization, I would expect…”
Using aspirational words like “hope” makes it sound like you were never actually expecting to receive the salary bump you’re asking for. If you’ve prepared appropriately, you know that your number is reasonable, so act like it.
Use the research you’ve done and the value you’ve proven to frame your ask. When you frame your expectation as an objective fact, it’s going to come across as more rational and more difficult to reject.
4. ‘I’m going to have to go to the competition…’
What to say instead: “I’ve received other offers, but I’m more interested in making this position sustainable.”
Threatening to quit is a dangerous game. Your boss may ask you to pack up your things and leave.
Outside job offers can be used as leverage, but they have to be managed carefully. Instead, mention that you’ve been getting calls from the competition, but you’re more interested in making your current position work.
This is a more effective and collaborative way to use your leverage; it keeps the situation positive while adding subtext that they’re going to have to be competitive in order to keep you.
5. ‘Thanks, anyway…’
What to say instead: “When can we pick up this conversation again?”
Not every negotiation will get resolved quickly. Occasionally, you’ll get a no. But that’s not the end of the negotiation — it’s just the start.
If you’re interested in staying at the company, it may just take a little longer to get what you want. The key is to ask questions: If they say “Not now,” ask “When?” If they say “You need some more experience,” ask “What does that experience look like to you?”
Agree on specific milestones so you’re not guessing when you’ll pick up the conversation again. If your boss is avoiding answers, you might want to consider looking for a new job where you’ll be valued.
Above all, remember that you’re having this conversation is because your organization needs you. Arming yourself with that confidence can make all the difference.
Fotini Iconomopoulos advises executives around the world to get better deals and trains their teams to negotiate more effectively. She is also the author of “Say Less, Get More: Unconventional Negotiation Techniques to Get What You Want” and an MBA instructor at York University’s Schulich School of Business.
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