Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


A Contrarian Approach to Negotiation

A kinder, gentler, often wiser approach to negotiating your compensation

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Source: Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

So, you've gotten a job offer. Do you negotiate? And if so, how to do it so you get your fair share (or a bit more) without risking the job offer being withdrawn?

This article, the 10th in a 12-part series on your career, will show you how to do that. The approach is less aggressive than traditional negotiation advice. Why? Because, unless you're a star, in today's market, I've seen too many job offers withdrawn because of too-tough negotiation. Also, I've seen candidates fight and win an extra $5,000 or even $15,000 but pay too high a price in heightened expectations. The boss may have to explain to his or her boss or coworkers why s/he paid you that extra money and if you turn out to be less than excellent, the boss's boss and coworkers could complain, which could put you on the chopping block. And remember that even if you get an extra $15,000, you get to keep only half that because additional income is taxed at your top rate. And $7,500 is unlikely to dramatically change your lifestyle—Losing a desired job would be much worse.


Of course, the key to successful negotiation is preparation. The more you know about what you're worth, about what the employer is likely to pay, the more confidently you can negotiate and the stronger the case you can make without alienating the employer.

So, ideally, as recommended in the previous article in this series, in the job interview, you would have asked and gotten an answer to the question, "What is the salary range that has been budgeted for the position?" If not, check out for salary information for your job at that employer and and for geographically adjusted pay for people in your job title and amount of experience. You might also query personal, alumni, or LinkedIn connections in your field or who work at the employer. On LinkedIn, you can easily search your connections by employer name. If possible, create a list of comparable salaries and at the bottom, state what would thus be fair compensation, or 10 percent to 15 percent above fair—Everyone needs to feel they've gotten a win, so making your request a bit (but not too) high allows you to accept a lower offer without hurting yourself.

Prepare the case for why you'd add particular value, financially or otherwise, to that employer. For example, if you're going to be a program manager at a nonprofit, explain that you will, as you have in the past, cut costs without decreasing quality. It will help if you provide an example of how you might do that.

Consider proposing a change in part of your job description that would justify higher pay. For example, might you offer to supervise more people or write a grant proposal?

Get clear on your negotiation's highest realistic goal, your expected goal, and the least you'd accept. Don't focus only on cash compensation because that, unlike benefits and perks, are taxed and give the employer nothing in exchange. Instead, you may want to prioritize such items as a job description tweaked to accentuate your strengths, a training budget, whom to report to, title, part-time telecommuting, a date for an early performance review tied to a compensation increase, etc.

Also, depending on the position, you may be able to negotiate fully employer-paid health care, deferred compensation like stock options, and vacation days. Think twice about pushing hard on the latter—It doesn't speak of a great work ethic.

It's also dangerous to try to negotiate too many items. Of course, every situation is different but a rule of thumb is to negotiate salary plus two other items.

In the negotiation

Be friendly but not too friendly. That can feel like a ploy or make your opponent think you're a softie who'll take a lowball offer.

Also, resist getting frustrated with low offers. For some people, that's just how they've been taught to negotiate. Be easy on the people, somewhat tougher on the issues.

It's standard and probably correct to start by listening to the offer: Cash, benefits, etc. Unless it's clear the offer is generous, you might ask, "How did you arrive at that compensation? In preparing to talk with you, I identified some comparables (Show them) and it appears that $X would be fair. What do you think?"

If you reach impasse on salary, rather than let that stall things, say something like, "How about we put salary aside for the moment and discuss another issue that may be easier to agree on?"

Regarding each item you're negotiating, another rule of thumb is "Reject the first offer; accept the second." Any more you get after the second offer can impose too big a cost: the aforementioned heightened expectations for you and even increased risk of early termination.

Maintaining the right attitude

It may be easier to negotiate with moderation and calm by remembering that even if it's not the boss's money, s/he could get in trouble by giving you too much. In the end, what should matter most is a job and boss you feel good about. And by following this article's gentler approach to negotiation, you've maximized your chances of keeping such a job while getting adequately compensated.

Here are the links to this series' other installments:

A Holistic Approach to Finding Your Career

An Analytical Approach to Finding Your Career

Getting Well-Trained for Your Career

Networking for People Who Don't Like It

The One-Week Job Search

A Contrarian Approach to Creating Your Resume and LinkedIn Profile

Ethical (and Effective) Letters for Job Seekers.

Using Recruiters (Headhunters) Wisely

The Effective, Ethical, and Less Stressful Job Interview

A Contrarian Approach to Negotiation (this article.)

Getting Off to a Good Start on Your New Job

A Contrarian Approach to Succeeding in Your Career

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

More from Marty Nemko Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today