Negotiating salary

Inspired by the recent announcement by Lisa Munro and Kristi Lodge that they will assume the mantle of the #withaPhD chats from Jen Polk of From PhD to Life , I dusted off this blog post that had been sitting – 80% completed – in my “blog posts under construction” folder.


The #withaPhD 2.0 inaugural chat is tomorrow, Monday at 12pm EST on the topic of money, and so I give you a post about negotiating at work.


Reading some stats about negotiating and asking for raises at work on the companion website for the book Women Don’t Ask: Negotiation and the Gender Divide, what strikes me as most interesting about the discussion are the metaphors they pull out from their data.

When asked to pick metaphors for the process of negotiating, men picked “winning a ballgame” and a “wrestling match,” while women picked “going to the dentist.”  What a difference in terms of conceptualization of task, not to mention relationship among participants, and orientation to outcome.  When framed as a painful chore, it is no wonder that salary negotiation can seem terrifying – something to be avoided it at all costs.

Embracing new metaphors can be an important step in making us feel more like a Career Advisor I spoke with who once told me that her job becomes WAY more “fun” when students bring a situation of competing offers to her. When there are more women on both sides of the negotiation table, different strategies may become the norm. Until then, we all can become a bit more aware of the game as it is being played now, of the default assumptions and expectations that inform how we conduct such negotiations.

Which includes recognizing that we can hold different interpretations of the very same action on the part of an individual, based on whether it is a man or a woman taking it: “he’s looking our for himself” and as negative for a woman, from whom loyalty is expected (subconsciously, and possibly from both the asker and the askee).
Learn more at the Gender Bias Learning project website.

So, how do we play?

All signs point to focusing on the mechanics of this Speech Act as an opportunity to cultivate greater awareness of styles and expectations, affordances and constraints of the negotiation genre. Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, advocates for a style which involves frequent expression of appreciation and concern (for the organization, the team, the boss), invoking common interests, emphasizing larger goals, and approaching the negotiation as solving a problem rather than taking a critical stance.

What contextualization cues can we recruit to cultivate and reinforce a framing of the encounter that supports a request that calls attention to connection?

  • Focus on salary: Reposition the stance object so that it is the salary and not the employee.
  • “We” not “me” Strategic use of “we” can reinforce a framing of the interaction as being how this benefits team instead of self: “how can we solve this issue?” rather than “this is something that I want.”
  • Meta-communicate Call direct attention to communicative expectations about negotiation as a way to begin the negotiation itself.  Meta-communicate!!
  • Perspective-taking Taking the perspective of the person on the other side of the table can be helpful in learning how to hear “no” as “no for now,” and consider whether there are other things that you can ask for besides salary that would be even more valuable in the long run (resources, time off, opportunities for professional development, benefits, staff support).

Make space for more conversations about performance
Always keep an eye out for opportunities for meaningful conversations and work to create opportunities to discuss your work with your boss. Your supervisor is probably too busy to go out of his/her way to make space for conversations about your performance outside the regular performance review schedule. ASK!!!  Keep asking.

And in the meantime, be patient, do good work, and  when you have a success, make sure that people know about it.  Regularly communicate your value to the organization, and express your appreciation for things that you value about your co-workers, your division, the organization. SHARE!!! Keep sharing.