How To Negotiate Salary: 5 Secrets Backed By Research

Sum Up

Here’s what Adam had to say about how to negotiate salary:

  • Have an alternative and know what your market value is: Preparation is what wins negotiations.
  • Use a “Power Prime”: Take a moment to think about a time you felt powerful and you’ll act more powerful.
  • Use perspective taking, not empathy: Understand their needs but don’t feel their needs.
  • If you have good information, always make the first offer: Get anchoring on your side. Use precise numbers.
  • Giving them options can help: Try giving a range or multiple offers you’d be happy with.

Where should you start? If you do nothing else, what’s the single most important thing to do before your salary negotiation?

Know what other people are getting in as much detail as possible. Information truly is power in this case. Here’s Adam:

Be prepared so when you go into a negotiation you know what questions they’re going to ask, you know what other people are getting paid, how fast other people get bonuses, all these other pieces of information that are essential.

The 2 Most Important Things To Have In A Negotiation:

Preparation is vital.

  • Getting a credible alternative. What are you going to do if they say “no”? If you have another job offer, they know you can walk away from the deal and they’re more likely to play ball.
  • Knowing the market rates for your services. If you don’t know what people similar to you are being paid, you won’t know what you can reasonably ask for, or what a good or bad offer is.

Use A “Power Prime”

Feeling powerful is particularly helpful in salary negotiations because it allows you to ask for what you think you’re worth.


Take a moment before you negotiate to recall a time when you did feel powerful. This is known as a Power Prime:


I’ve done tons of research demonstrating that thinking about a time when you had power has a dramatic transformative effect on how you behave. It allows you to feel more confident, allows you to feel more optimistic, and those combine to allow you to be more assertive, agentic, and take more action.


Use Perspective Taking, Not Empathy

You want to understand the other side but you don’t want to feel for them.

You want to use “perspective taking.” All that means is trying to rationally see it from their side.


**I can figure out what the minimum value I can offer them and still get them to accept a deal. If I really know what someone else wants, it might allow me to recognize solutions that are really low cost to me but high value to them and allow me to ask for something that’s high value for me, and thereby make both parties better off.***  

Trying to understand their needs is a rational process. What Adam warns against is feeling the other side’s position instead of just cognitively understanding it.

Research shows that when you feel rather than think, you’re more likely to make unnecessary concessions.


Sympathy leads to worse distributive outcomes because you either get exploited for your sympathy or you give things up on your own as a way to make yourself feel better. What perspective taking allows you to do is not just get blindsided by your own emotional sympathy, but to really recognize what the other person wants and to ask yourself cognitively, “How can I offer that to them in a way that doesn’t cause me a lot of pain?”


If You Have Good Information, Always Make The First Offer


You want to know what the going salary is for someone at your level and then make the most aggressive first offer you can reasonably justify. More often than not, people who make the first offer do better


When do you not want to make the first offer? When you have no idea what the market rate is. You could accidentally ask for far too little or way too much.


**The reason making the first offer is generally a good idea is because of a psychological principle called “anchoring.” The first number that gets mentioned in a salary negotiation has an incredible amount of power.

***It becomes the standard by which counteroffers are judged and most people are reluctant to stray too far from it.



You can make your anchor even more sticky by not using round numbers. When someone says “$100,000” it sounds like they didn’t put a lot of thought into it and will probably accept less.

But when someone says “$102,500” it seems like they probably have a good reason for asking for that exact amount.


Giving Them Options Can Help


Employers often mention salary ranges but employees rarely do. Adam says this can be a mistake.

As long as you’d be happy with the number at the bottom of a range you present, giving them a range can make you look more flexible



That’s true, but it’s better if the lower end of that range is really in the high end of the scale, because one of the things that you’re doing when you offer a range is you’re giving the impression of flexibility.


Welcome to the

Barking Up The Wrong Tree

weekly update for March 6th, 2016.

How To Negotiate Salary: 5 Secrets Backed By Research

Another way to create more value for both sides is to do something Adam calls “multiple equivalent simultaneous offers.”

Like we discussed, an employer might be stingy with salary but flexible on bonuses. And it might be hard to get them to tell you about these preferences because they don’t want to give you more leverage


So if you present multiple offers at the same time, all of which you’d happily accept, you create a possibility that they might be likely to accept and get around sticking points.


Let’s say both of them have a pretty robust salary, but you have some adjustments on how much travel you do versus the number of vacation days versus the amount of bonus that you get versus moving expenses. You say, “Which one do you prefer?” That also allows you to figure out their preferences in the process. They might care much more about travel time than moving expenses, and so I could push a little bit harder in that direction.


How To Negotiate Salary: 5 Secrets Backed By Research

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