Working Strategies: Overcoming the fear of salary negotiation

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Amy Lindgren

Is salary negotiation on your mind for the new year? I have good news and bad news. The good news first: A lot has been happening in this area that finally favors the worker. As an example, laws promoting salary transparency and discouraging historical bias are catching on across the country.

Here’s what that means: Depending on a particular municipality’s wording, transparency laws might mandate that salaries be included in job postings, or that employees not be disciplined for discussing their salaries openly. In either case, internal workers and candidates can gain key information, letting them negotiate more effectively.

Historical bias laws, on the other hand, address the longstanding practice of asking for a candidate’s previous wages, typically on applications or during screening interviews. Among the problems this creates, perhaps the most damaging is the employer’s opportunity (and tendency) to make lower offers to candidates with historically lower wages. Without prior knowledge of a worker’s income, employers find low-balling harder to do.

So what’s the bad news? Some folks still don’t or won’t negotiate. Excluding union workers (whose contracts are generally pre-negotiated), the numbers from different surveys indicate that about half of employees accept a company’s first offer, whether that’s for a new job or for a raise.

The reasons given for negotiation-reluctance run along these lines: Fear of failing; fear of changing the relationship with the boss; fear of losing an offer; fear of retaliation; fear of bringing up something uncomfortable …

Did I mention fear?

It’s not unreasonable to fear something, especially if you have personal experience that underpins your concern. But however real your fear may be, at some point you have to ask, “Is this what I want for myself?”

If you’re a worker who hasn’t been negotiating raises or offers, why not make this your year to start? You’ll find tons of information from authors and strategists on how to do this, but I can get you started with my favorite 10 tips.

1. Negotiate the whole position: Consider all aspects of the job — including the duties, title and schedule — when you decide which aspects to negotiate.

2. Understand the full package: Free health care? School loan repayment? You need the details in order to put a value on the offer as a whole.

3. Consider your current needs: Younger parents might get a lot of benefit from free family health care, while an older worker whose spouse is on Medicare might not. Be sure you’re assigning the true value to each item offered.

4. Base salary is king: Whatever the perks may be, they’re no substitute for higher pay. When you raise this number, retirement contributions and other benefits also improve, since they are based on the salary. Future raises will also be higher because they’ll be percentage increases.

5. It needs to be in writing: If you don’t receive a formal email or offer letter with the points you’ve negotiated and agreed to, send your own letter to the manager outlining the offer or raise as agreed. This will help later if the terms are disputed or the manager leaves.

6. Research matters: What do others make for this work, elsewhere and within this organization? What has the turnover been in this department? How badly do they need you? The more you can learn, the more you can strategize your approach.

7. Perception matters: Are you worth the money you’re asking for? For both internal and external candidates, it’s important to discuss what you’re bringing to the table in terms of work product and contributions to the team.

8. Perception matters, part II: If the employer or boss perceives you want this job above all others, you’ve lost a point in your negotiation. One way to signal your ability to seek other offers is by having a compelling, up-to-date résumé and LinkedIn profile.

9. You matter: If you still hesitate to negotiate after reviewing these pointers, remember who you’re doing it for: Your elderly self, trying to stretch Social Security just a little further, to cover dinner out or a new pair of shoes. Not going to be you? Probably not, if you do what you can to earn more now.

10. Vote with your feet: When an offer won’t budge or your raise is denied for too long, it may be time to move on. Each year you remain underpaid literally steals income you could be using to improve your life. Let 2024 be the year you start.

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Amy Lindgren owns a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at

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