7 Tips for Overcoming Salary Negotiation Fear

The facts will empower you in the interview

Posted Sep 11, 2018

It doesn’t matter if you’re an intern, Nobel Prize winner or a paid actor who knows how to pour on the charisma. Negotiating salary can be daunting to the most courageous of souls, due to the many pitfalls. But it doesn't have to be. Here is a defining moment from an early Albert Brooks movie.

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Source: Dreamstime

In my last column, I noted how a CareerBuilder survey showed more than half of workers don’t even negotiate for better pay when offered a job. Introverts have an even bigger mountain to climb when facing salary negotiation fear.

When you’re more reserved, the stronger job market and increased leverage still isn’t enough to transform you into a virtual Cuba Gooding Jr. in Jerry Maguire—allowing you to blurt out, “Show me the money!” (Frankly, that tactic would not bode real well, anyway!)

Here are some negotiating tips that do work when you’re introverted ... or simply dread salary discussions:

1. Focus on the facts

When you sense a company is close to making an offer, make sure you’ve carefully researched market trends. There’s no shortage of salary data online, so have it committed to memory. The more you understand your value, the easier it is to speak with authority when you counter.

Avoid wishy-washy language like, “I think” and “Maybe you could.” Present your case and step back, so the ball (and pressure) is back in the hiring manager’s court.

2. Deploy your people skills

Introverts do tend to possess emotional intelligence. Being a good listener who observes situations actually gives you a leg up here.

Treat the negotiation as a conversation, not a confrontation. This is a great time to point out little things you noticed during interviews, such as how your skills can benefit certain projects. You might note, for instance, that you can handle a Microsoft 365 migration with ease, since you just completed this successfully at your current employer. Reminders like this can build your case for a higher salary.

3. Ask open-ended questions

Encourage conversation through the right questions, so you can learn more about the hiring manager’s perspective: "Can you describe further the compensation program you foresee for this position?" "What criteria is included when evaluating staff for your merit bonus program?" Open-ended questions such as these require more thought and input from the manager, and give you a better sense of how much wiggle room you have with negotiations. “Yes” and “no” answers can result in a verbal ping-pong match.

4. Use quiet confidence

Above all, don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. Show sincerity and confidence in the data that backs up your request for a higher starting salary. But don’t feel you must transform into a hard-nosed negotiator. If the thought of saying, “I must earn a minimum of X, or I can't accept this position,” makes you cringe, use more diplomatic language that flows more naturally.

Remember that the employer is interested in you as you are, as evidenced by the offer. You can demonstrate your value while maintaining a friendly tone, and still be taken seriously.

Being hard-nosed can backfire, too. It will work to your advantage to emphasize that working for the particular company, and the growth opportunity the position provides are the primary goals; that is, that money isn't the key driver.

5. Confront the worst-case scenario

Part of the battle is just preparing yourself for the worst. Often, the reality of negotiations is far better than whatever you’ve imagined could happen.

Is the hiring manager really going to fume and say, “I can’t believe you asked for more money! I’m so insulted, this conversation is over!” Not likely. These negotiations happen every day in the workplace; you’re not the first person to ask for more, nor the last.

Even if the hiring manager declines your request, it isn’t necessarily a stopping point. There may be other factors you can negotiate, such as health insurance, 401(k)s, paid vacation time, flexible work, merit bonuses, free gym membership or cell phone, child care or other perks. You might also ask for a 6-month review to potentially accelerate your next raise. The worst case is that you’re simply back to the original offer.

6. Practice your approach

Introverts typically fear the unknown, so one of the great ways to counter that anxiety is through preparation. Sit down one-on-one with a friend or family member and play out a negotiation. 

Cover different scenarios, so you can anticipate your reaction. What will you do if the manager says the compensation plan isn’t negotiable? What if the person throws in a signing bonus instead of your desired salary?

7. Know your bottom line

Give careful thought to what you will and won't accept in the final offer. That way you can confidently accept or decline in line with your expectations. Remember that if you’re presented with a surprise scenario, you can always diplomatically bide time for a couple days.

Keep in mind, too, that if the negotiation becomes ugly and your contact is irrational or rude, it is often a red flag. This is your prospective boss on their best behavior!

You don’t need to be Oscar-worthy or a member of the Mensa to succeed at salary negotiations. In fact, being yourself and having your facts together give you the best tools you can possibly have.