Practice Makes Perfect: You’re Already a Salary Negotiation Expert and Don’t Even Know It

People dread salary negotiations, which loom in their minds as something outside their usual experience and uncomfortable to boot. But the core skillset, negotiation, you actually do all the time, and good news is that the specific interaction, salary negotiation, improves with practice.

You Negotiate Every Day

Though you may not negotiate your salary often, you negotiate other things much more often than you may think. In fact, you negotiate every time you settle a difference of opinion. You want pizza, your spouse wants Thai, and you settle on Thai tonight, pizza tomorrow. Your manager wants the whole feature-set in this release, but you just lost a developer, so you and she agree on her list of most important features for now and postpone others. You want to read, your spouse wants to watch TV, so you read in headphones while your spouse watches TV. Your manager wants you to take on something new, but your plate is full, so you and he decide on the new task’s relative priority.

The point is that you negotiate more frequently and more successfully than you probably realize. If you think of salary negotiations as a specific type of negotiation, an unusual case of something you do often, you’ll be much more confident than if you think of them as something that you can’t remember when you did last.

Once you realize that you have the basic skill, the way to get good at salary negotiations is exactly the same way you get good at anything else: practice. Everyone agrees playing a mandolin or dribbling a soccer ball or making biscuits from scratch improves with practice, but though almost everyone wants to get better at salary negotiation, almost no one practices for it. Here’s how you do it.

Collect the Facts

First, assemble your data. Know the range of what other people in your company and in your industry get paid for your job: Payscale can help you here. List both the new skills you have developed since your last salary negotiation and how you have used them; make sure this information is appropriately documented in your performance review as well. If there is something important to your team’s success that only you do, or only you do well, note that. If possible, know what your closest peer with the closest skillset and experience to yours is paid.

Use Your Imagination

Second, imagine your encounter with your boss or your HR representative or whoever is in charge of setting your salary. Imagine how you will propose and justify your new salary, and write down the series of counterproposals and objection the other party may have. Practice in front of a mirror, and speak out loud to get used to hearing the sound of your own voice proposing and supporting your new salary.


Third, role-play the scenarios you just imagined. Ideally you should do this both with someone you know well at your company and with someone you know well who doesn’t work there. It’s tempting to skip this step, but don’t: having someone else hear you, describe what they are hearing, and speak in your boss’s voice will help you prepare for the actual interaction better than anything else. Offer to do the same for your two friends, and you will learn a great deal about your own negotiation from that as well. When you’re actually in the negotiation, you’ll do better because you have done it before. Good luck!