Renegotiate Salary to Your Advantage

When it’s time to renegotiate salary, we often downplay our contributions to the organization. Here’s advice on how to bargain up rather than down—and earn what you truly deserve.

By — on / Salary Negotiations

renegotiate salary

As we prepare to renegotiate salary, most of us intend to ask for as much as we can without antagonizing our employer. But we sometimes undervalue our worth, with disappointing consequences.

To take one dramatic example, in 2013, the board of Chicago public radio station WBEZ offered a big raise—more than $100,000—to Ira Glass, the creator and host of the long-running radio show This American Life, to recognize his value to the organization. Glass’s salary would go from $170,000 to $278,000.

But the big bump in pay made Glass uncomfortable, he told the New York Times, so he asked the board to lower his salary to $146,000–less than the starting point of the negotiation. Later, he reportedly asked for his salary to be lowered again, even though he was having to book speaking engagements to cover his and his wife’s living expenses in New York City.

Why would Glass negotiate his salary down rather than up? He may have felt self-conscious about earning a high salary from a not-for-profit organization funded by grants and listener donations.

Negotiation is difficult enough without creating extra roadblocks for ourselves, yet that’s what we often do. This tendency can be particularly strong when we try to renegotiate salary, as we often feel vulnerable and insecure about our worth. Our salary negotiation tips will help ensure you don’t sell yourself short.

Get Out of Your Way

To renegotiate salary and other job terms more effectively, we have to recognize how we “get in our own way,” write Simmons School of Management professor emerita Deborah M. Kolb and Jessica L. Porter in their book Negotiating at Work: Turn Small Wins Into Big Gains (Jossey-Bass, 2015). Pitfalls include failing to recognize opportunities to negotiate, focusing on our own weaknesses, and making the first concessions in our own heads, before other parties have voiced their positions.

Bargaining ourselves down starts with self-doubt about our value. Before we renegotiate salary, we tend to think that the employer has all the cards—that our only choices are to acquiesce or reject an offer outright. These internal dialogues are where the first concessions in the negotiation are made, write Kolb and Porter. We might decide not to renegotiate salary because we want to negotiate hard on another issue, rather than looking for ways to negotiate across multiple issues.

When we fail to recognize our own value, we are vulnerable to accepting less than we’re entitled to. In addition, our beliefs about what will satisfy the other party may be incorrect. Glass’s employer, for example, might have wanted him to accept a raise that would enable him to focus fully on his work without the need to overtax himself with side jobs.

How to Bargain Salary

When preparing to renegotiate salary, there are a number of steps you should take to be an effective self-advocate, according to Kolb and Porter:

  1. Gather information so that you will feel that what you are asking for is defensible. Prepare to explain the value you bring to the organization.
  2. Develop alternatives to the current negotiation to increase your flexibility at the table. Keep in mind that the other party’s alternatives, such as losing you, may be less attractive than yours.
  3. Examine your vulnerabilities and plan ahead to compensate for them. For example, if a project you worked on didn’t pan out, prepare to discuss what went wrong, what went right, and how you learned from the situation.

A Word about Anchors

Abundant negotiation research has found that whatever figure is introduced first into a negotiation—however arbitrary or unfair it may be—serves as a powerful anchor that pulls the discussion it its direction. When we renegotiate salary, what’s the most obvious anchor? Your current salary. Like it or not, whatever you earn now will anchor the salary discussion.

Fortunately, when asking for a raise, you may be able to identify another anchor that would be more advantageous to you. For example, suppose you believe you are significantly underpaid. Research what you believe you should be making and secure documentation, such as job postings and information from industry sources. Present this data when you meet to renegotiate salary. Although your current salary will remain salient in your boss’s mind, you might be able to lessen its impact with a new anchor.

What other business negotiation solutions have you found helpful when trying to renegotiate salary?


The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School
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