When I took my first job, it never crossed my mind to negotiate my salary — or any other component of my offer for that matter. I was so grateful that I had an offer that I just took it.
Later, I asked a colleague if he negotiated his offer , even though the salary was fixed. “I tried,” he said. “I try to negotiate everything.”
This conversation was illuminating. Unlike my colleague, I didn’t try to negotiate anything — ever. The idea of negotiating felt at best, awkward, and at worst, scary.
Over the next year, I came across some information that made me realize that by failing to negotiate, I was missing out on two major things:
- Income (about $500k over my lifetime) and
After all, women still only make 80% of what men do. This data inspired me to overcome my fear of negotiation and develop this critical skill — for the next time I had the opportunity to negotiate my salary or a job offer.
To build my comfort negotiating, I intentionally started small. And I made my first attempt in a low-pressure situation, where I had little to lose, for example when I would never see the person again.
My first negotiation occurred about ten years ago — in a mall. I found a sweater I liked at J. Crew with a broken button. So, when I was checking out, I simply said: “This button is broken. Is there anything you can do?”
Without blinking, the cashier said “Sure. 30% off.”
That was my first success. It was so easy — and inspired me to keep negotiating in low-pressure situations, like at stores, at the coffee shop, or on my cable bill, so that I could build the skill for when I really needed it.
I later used the negotiation skills I built in my career — most notably to negotiate job offers. In my last job search, I successfully got seven companies to raise their salary offers by up to 20%.
Why you should negotiate in your career
A fear of negotiation is so common that almost half of all job candidates never try to negotiate their initial offer.
But here’s the thing: most companies expect you to negotiate. In a recent study, half of all companies say that they would be willing to negotiate a job offer.
People who don’t negotiate their salary miss out on $500k — or more — over a lifetime. Negotiating your salary from $50k to $55k — merely an extra $5k — can lead to half a million dollars of additional earnings over fifty years. You can also use this calculator to see how much your negotiations could generate over the course of your life.
On average, women miss out even more. According to Women Don’t Ask, we are four times less likely to negotiate than men — and when we do negotiate, we ask for less and receive 30% less than men. This is likely a contributing factor to the pay gap — currently, on average women make only 80% of what men do.
So, how do you learn to negotiate — especially if you’ve spent a lifetime avoiding it?
1. Start by negotiating the small things
To get comfortable negotiating, start small. Ask for a discount on a product. Or, ask for two stamps on your coffee loyalty card. Or, negotiate a discount on your monthly cable bill. For other ideas on things you can negotiate, check out this list.
You will probably end up being shocked at how often you’re successful negotiating, not to mention that it always feels good to get a deal.
By negotiating small things frequently in your personal life, you will gain the comfort and skill necessary to negotiate larger things in the future — like a job offer or a raise.
2. Use friendly language — and questions
A common misperception is that negotiations must involve language a la Wolf of Wall Street — words like: “I’m worth this, or “if you don’t pay me X, I’ll take my talents elsewhere,” or “this is my final offer.”
But this perception of negotiation couldn’t be further from the truth.
Negotiation does not need to be Wolf of Wall Street style. (Source: GIPHY)
Negotiation language does not need to be hostile — in fact, using amicable language gives you a better chance of succeeding in a negotiation. According to Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra, being likable in a negotiation leads to a higher success rate.
I definitely have felt more comfortable — and authentic — using a friendly approach to negotiation.
Recently, I was purchasing a couple new couches for our living room and had sticker shock when I received the quote. So, I called the salesperson and said: “I saw that you had a 20% off Summer clearance promotion that ended last week. Any chance you can still honor this?” Without hesitation, the salesman said: “Sure.” Success!
What I’ve found is this: Negotiation is often as simple as
- Providing convincing data and
- Asking a question.
Next time you are buying something — anything — try to negotiate. Here are some ways to practice negotiating with data and/or a question and get great discounts along the way:
- Is there a promotion going on right now? If they say no, try: “This is a large order — any chance you can offer XX% off?”
- I found the same product listed on Amazon (or another retailer) — can you offer it to me at the same price?
- I noticed this small defect — can you offer a discount?
- I saw that you were offering X% off last week — any chance that can still be applied here?
- Would you be willing to provide this service for less? Ideally suggest a number.
3. Always try to negotiate
Getting comfortable negotiating in your personal life is good practice for negotiating larger things in your life — like a job offer or a raise. So, start looking for opportunities to negotiate on a daily basis — then, try.
I almost always ask for deals and discounts, and I’m shocked at how often people unblinkingly just say: “Yes.” I would estimate that I’m successful about 80% of the time.
And when they say no, the relationship always stays cordial. If you approach the negotiation in an friendly way, how can they be upset with you?
So, why does negotiation work so often?
Think about it: negotiation is mutually beneficial for both parties.
In the couch example above, they wanted me to purchase this large order. And, I wanted the product — and to feel like I got a good deal.
We both won.
In a job offer negotiation, the company wants you to work there. And you want to be paid fairly. If you negotiate, you both win.
As a result, you may make an extra half a million dollars — or more — over your lifetime.