The 8 Most Common Salary Negotiation Tactics

by Staff - Original publish date: June 16, 2014

Which Terms & Tactics Work?

Within the language of every culture exists a sub-language – a collection of words, phrases, acronyms, slang, and jargon unique to that area of life, which must be deciphered in order to truly gain an understanding. The language of negotiation is no different.

Wikipedia has a great list of negotiation terms and tactics, so let’s highlight some of them and frame them in terms of salary negotiation.

8. Auction

Anyone that has used EBay or watched the reality show Storage Wars is familiar with an auction, a bidding process designed to create competition when multiple parties all want the same thing. As an auction escalates at a frenzied pace, not only do people want what is being bid on, they want to win just for the thrill of winning.

In a salary negotiation, candidates can create an “auction effect” when they have multiple offers. Let’s say you’re a sales executive with an extensive background in photography, and you receive an offer to work at Canon cameras. It’s a fair offer and you’re mulling it over.

Suddenly, you receive a slightly better offer for a similar position at Nikon. They’d really like to have you on board. While an all-out Sotheby’s-style auction for your services might not ensue, suddenly you've got a lot more leverage. If you’re in Canon’s shoes and you don’t accept their offer, not only are they going to lose the employee, they’re going to lose them to a heated rival.

7. Brinksmanship

One party aggressively pursues a set of terms to the point that the other party must either agree or walk away -- basically, pushing someone to the brink. Take it or leave it.

In a workplace negotiation, things usually don’t get this aggressive. However, you need to be cautious as a jobseeker. It’s always a good idea to negotiate, but if you keep pressing for more money and more perks, the company may eventually say they’ve had enough and come back to you and effectively say, “This offer is the best that we can do, take it or leave it.”

6. Bogey

Negotiators use the bogey tactic to pretend that an issue of little or no importance is very important. Then, later in the negotiation, the issue can be traded for a major concession of actual importance.

This is a technique that candidates can use effectively. The first step is to know what’s important to you in a job. Is it a high salary? A certain title? A flexible work schedule? Bonuses? However, that does not mean you have to reveal how much each of these items actually mean to you to the hiring manager.

Example: After receiving an offer, you realize that the cost of health insurance will be $300/month ($3,600/year) more than what you are paying at your current job. You could present this number as a very important issue early on, and later negotiate an extra week vacation as a concession or perhaps a $2,500 signing bonus toward making up the difference.

The truth? The insurance costs weren’t as important as you let on. Your spouse is close to landing a new job with great benefits, and you can go on their plan a few months from now – it’s the extra vacation time that was actually a higher priority for you.

5. Deadlines

If you’ve watched TV blurry-eyed late at night, you’ve heard the phrase, “Order within the next 15 minutes and you’ll also receive…” Giving the other party a deadline – either actual or artificial – uses time to apply pressure and force them into making a decision.

In terms of your career, deadlines are often called exploding job offers, and are being used a lot more lately, especially by companies in competitive fields or with college graduates.

From a company perspective, it’s a great tactic to counteract an employee with multiple options. However, Wharton professor and author Adam Grant contends that It’s Time To Eliminate Exploding Job Offers, saying that “Exploding offers don't lure in candidates who are the best fit; they attract people who are risk-averse.”

4. Flinch

Flinching is showing a strong negative physical reaction to a proposal. For example, gasping for air or a visible expression of surprise or shock. This signals to the opposite party that you think the offer or proposal is absurd in hopes the other party will lower their aspirations.

Sometimes the flinch is involuntary, and is caused by a miscommunication. Let’s say you’ve been making $73,000 in your current job over the past few years, and your friend tells you about an opportunity at a new startup or a non-profit.

They tell you, “It probably pays less than you’re making now, but you should at least check it out.” So you go on the interview, figuring if it’s a great opportunity, you can survive a slight pay cut if needed. The interview is going great, you’re starting to get interested, and then they say, “The salary for this job is $39,000.” If you just breathed in quickly and said “ouch,” you’ve just flinched.

Alternatively, you can make the flinch violent and voluntary, knowing that you’re going to do it beforehand, no matter what the number is. Let’s say someone is selling a used car on Craigslist, and you have $12,000-$14,000 to spend.

You give it a cursory look over, and then casually ask how much they were thinking of selling it for. They respond, “Well, I was thinking around $14,000.” You immediately flinch and yell “WOW! $14,000. Whoa. Wow. I was thinking more like $10,000.” Suddenly, you’ve rocked their confidence and can start negotiating up from $10k instead of down from $14,000.

3. Good Guy/Bad Guy

Like the police interrogation technique “good cop/bad cop,” one member of the team makes extreme or unreasonable demands, and the other offers a more rational approach.

While you don't see this “interrogation room” tandem too often with salary, some companies utilize it during the interview process itself. When meeting with 5 or 6 friendly managers during the course of hiring, a company will designate one of them to be the “bad cop.” They’ll ask much more difficult questions and sometimes even be confrontational to try and get you off your game or see how you respond to pressure.

2. Highball/Lowball

This is used when a buyer or seller makes a ridiculously high, or ridiculously low opening offer that will never be achieved.

When job searching, this is similar to the process of “anchoring.” Similar to the flinch scenario above, the first number that is stated serves as an anchor from which the rest of the negotiation is based.

1. Nibbling

Nibbling is asking for small concessions that haven't been discussed previously just before closing the deal. This method takes advantage of the other party's desire to just get things over with, so that they concede additional perks when you say, “Oh, just one more thing."

Nibbling can be dangerous as a job seeker. Let’s say you get an offer and then negotiate hard on salary, bonus structure, and title, going back and forth and before finally coming to a mutual agreement.

Then, before everything is totally finalized, you nibble back and ask if you can push your start date a week. The company isn’t thrilled, but they agree that it’s acceptable.

As HR is prepared to make everything official, you tell them you forgot to ask about a few more things… reimbursement for gym membership and monthly parking.

Here’s where things get dangerous. At some point you’re going to nibble too much, anger the hiring manager, and either start off your job on the wrong foot or get your offer rescinded.

Learn the Language of Negotiation

Learning the language of negotiation can be tricky, but it's vital for success. And can help you get paid fairly what you do.

The first thing you should do is research, so you're able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what's a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.

Good luck.